Employees are the lifeblood of a company's economic development, so investing in a healthy workforce is a sound business strategy. Occupational health services can play a significant role in supporting employee health and safety and, in turn, the company's health. Employers and workers' compensation insurers benefit greatly when they partner with the same occupational health clinic. This article highlights the tenants of an effective occupational health partnership, what services should be included in the program, and how to vet occupational health programs.
What is occupational health?
An occupational health program employs physicians and advanced practice providers (nurse practitioners and physician assistants) who have studied occupational and environmental medicine. Top-tier occupational health clinics focus exclusively on the medical needs required by employers for their personnel. A quality-focused clinic follows an evidenced-based model to ensure the best standards for pre-employment decisions and injury care.
Occupational health holds a unique space within the healthcare industry. Its' purpose is to care for workers and provide employers with an array of specific services. Occupational health organizations offer employers preventative maintenance programs and prompt medical treatment when an employee experiences a work injury. When choosing an occupational health partner, employers should seek providers that offer comprehensive services. Doing so will ensure continuity and efficiency by securing a single source for occupational health services.
Occupational health clinics are optimal for work injuries that do not require emergency care. These providers' understanding of work-related injuries produces the most effective and accurate directives for downstream care, such as surgeries and therapy. In addition, their expertise in occupational health reduces the risk of poor outcomes, excessive treatment, or inappropriate medical referrals.
What should an occupational health partner provide to your company?
A full-service occupational medicine clinic offers employers many services, including safety programs, corporate health services, vaccinations, drug and alcohol screenings, exposure evaluations, and physicals. In addition, these clinics specialize in work-specific hearing conservation and testing, pulmonary testing, ergonomic evaluations, fit for duty assessments, and occupational training.
The occupational health provider should offer worksite programs and be willing to perform walk-throughs. This provides the health partner with an appreciation of the employer's environment and scope of work, thus enabling them to offer better advice on work safety. Occupational health providers may also help employers develop transitional work programs. When the right occupation health partner is chosen, there is an opportunity to reduce the risk of injury in the workplace.
A reliable occupational health partner will also have employees versed in state and federal workers' compensation rules and regulations. The clinic partner will offer employers assistance navigating the maze of regulations to ensure compliance.
What are the key tenants of an effective occupational health partnership?
1. Communication of Goals
Shared goals should be communicated clearly and agreed upon. The occupational health provider should be committed to understanding the employer's environment, job scope, and culture. Seasoned clinics understand that the primary goal is to rehabilitate employees and get them back to work.
2. Prearranged Agreements
A prearranged agreement with an occupational health provider should include clear contacts, employer expectations, and goals. When an agreement is mutually understood, work injury outcomes are more successful. A clear and concise agreement improves efficiency and ensures more effective medical treatment for employees.
Flexibility in adherence to the agreement will benefit the partnership. There should be a mutual understanding that there may need to be occasional adjustments to meet the employers' evolving needs. Flexibility may also be necessary to meet the health objectives of the employees.
Collaboration amongst all parties is vital to obtaining optimal employee health outcomes. The benefits of ongoing collaboration include improved health and safety, reduced days out of work, and increased trust amongst all stakeholders in the partnership.
5. Time-Sensitivity Awareness
An astute occupational health clinic appreciates the time-sensitive nature in which they must address the employers' needs for medical assessments, training, or treatment of their employees. The occupational health provider should commit to employees having access to immediate care.
How can you get started with an occupational health provider?
Getting started with an occupational health partner is easy. Begin by evaluating your current processes and experience with occupational health. Where is there a need for improvement? How can you leverage the occupational health partnership to achieve a healthy work environment for employees?
Take time to research your area's occupational health providers. Their websites should clearly communicate their services and whether they have easy access to care, which is paramount to the partnership. Once a provider is selected, contact their marketing or business development staff to schedule a visit. You should meet with their team and visit the clinic where your employees will be going. Be prepared with questions to ensure the provider aligns with your company's goals and culture.
What are the benefits of occupational health partnerships?
There is tangible value in investing time to develop, maintain, and nurture the occupational health partnership. According to Human Maintenance Performance Readiness Systems studies, employers actively using their occupation health partners' services see a more than 50% reduction in soft tissue injuries. The reduction in injuries leads to less lost time, lower injury costs, and more productive employees.
Employers are also more satisfied with care when treated by a trusted occupational health provider. Mitigating injuries and providing more efficient medical care also reduce employer costs. Furthermore, an effective occupational health partnership reduces disability durations and improves return-to-work metrics.
When the employer and their workers' compensation provider work with the same occupational health provider, they maximize the benefits of the partnership. Some of the efficiencies include an easier transfer of medical records and seamless integration of both the employer's and insurer's needs. There is power in building relationships with occupational health providers. A successful partnership benefits everyone involved.