“Can occupational health absence assessments be done thoroughly and safely by phone or by video call, and if so, how does this work?“
Yes, absolutely and this method has multiple benefits like reducing wasted travel time and is essentially a zero-carbon option.
As the worldwide coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues, healthcare professionals in the NHS like GPs and Occupational Health Physicians and Nurses have increasingly explored ways to continue to treat and advise our patients and employees requiring occupational health assessments safely, delivering the highest level of care but without the need to, where avoidable and acceptable to do so, see patients face to face. One well-established highly effective method uses telemedicine or teleconsultation. In this article we go into what a teleconsultation is, how this works, and what are the potential benefits for employees requiring an occupational health assessment.
What is a teleconsultation?
A teleconsultation allows an employee who requires an occupational health medical consultation, to consult with a doctor or nurse without having to leave home or their place of work.
A teleconsultation is defined as:
A general term for any consultation between doctors or between doctors and patients on a network or video link (facetime, intranet, Internet, Skype)
This works in the same way as a standard occupational health assessment, however the Doctor/Nurse and the employee to communicate via telephone or video link, which can be done using a variety of different channels, using Skype as an example or high definition video conferencing. This allows both the Occupational Health Physician or OHA and the employee requiring a consultation to see each other and talk together, however remotely which enables this medical to be carried out adhering to social distancing, as both parties are of course not sat in the same room together as would have usually happened before the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Occupational Health Physician is able to share their screen to highlight or explain certain medical results, treatment plans or health information with the employee who is being assessed and enables the employee to ask more detailed questions.
Why is it important to use teleconsultations for occupational health now?
Teleconsultation, videoconsultation and phone assessments have been used successfully in the occupational health sector for a number of years now. OH3 clinicians are very confident in providing opinions in this way and feedback from employees and patients demonstrate high levels of satisfaction with them compared to face to face assessments.
The pandemic has meant that we have had to move completely to telemedicine in the initial months of lockdown and even with the progressive lifting of lockdown. We expect the considerable benefits of telemedicine to become obvious to more and more companies for assessment for absence management and support.
Social distancing is of course important for all individuals, but acutely so for health care professionals such as occupational health staff. All healthcare workers due to the nature of their busy role require to advise many different people on any one given day, which increases risk of transmission, though strict PPE use can minimise this. The need to reduce risk in the workplace must be removed at source whenever it is possible to do rather than rely on PPE so the need to move the occupational health absence management assessments away from face to face appointments is critical wherever possible. This protects employees as much as possible by providing remote services wherever possible and where not possible then to perform any essential face to face services from a distance.
Our clinical team at OH3 are continuing to providing the highest level of service during the lockdown period of COVID-19. It is hugely important that occupational health staff can continue to support employees requiring help, support or advice who are absent from work. This is important for those on long term sick leave who require an absence management consultation to support their recovery back into the workplace, or those which require coronavirus (COVID-19) return to work medical assessments carried out by an Occupational Health Physician or OHA following confirmed or suspected coronavirus infection. This is especially important for employees from keyworker sectors.
By use of modern video calling technology, occupational health has been able to overcome the difficulties of social distancing, home working and travel restriction for the above areas and other legally required areas like health surveillance medicals. This has made teleconsultations an extremely useful tool for occupational health provision and will enable companies coming out of lockdown to support their workers back to work from furlough or home working.
It can be used for consultations in all sector settings and is used with OH3 clients from all sectors including Manufacturing, Transport, Training, Health Care, Construction and Food Production.
Is this a safe and secure way to conduct an occupational health assessment?
Just like a normal, face to face occupational health assessment, teleconsultations with an Occupational Health Physician/OHA are conducted and regulated by different stringent clinical governance procedures, such as medical ethics, strict data protection and risk assessments.
A remote consultation can be used in virtually all circumstances, and most cases will be the main mode, especially during 2020 and this is expected until the coronavirus (COVID-19) threat is over or a vaccine widely available. Our clinicians will always use their clinical judgement to triage assessments and will advise if a face to face follow up assessment is required when safe to do so, if this is essential. We would advise if this is the case and if we believe this can be done safely. The employee can be provided with all the options and support that they need for return to work plan via phone or video-link.
Occupational health teleconsultations are only carried out with the consent of the employee requiring the assessment. It is important that an employee taking part in an occupational health teleconsultation has the purpose of the support offered by the occupational health tele-assessment and not have an impairment which would make this less appropriate, like hearing or visual problems, which may make a face to face appointment maybe more appropriate at a later date.
OH3 is SEQOHS (Safe Effective Quality Occupational Health Service) accredited by the Faculty of Occupational Medicine. This external quality assessment demonstrates we operate to the highest national standards of approved occupational health delivery. In addition to this, OH3 is also registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office. We also only use secure platforms to conduct the teleconsultation, such as Skype, where the privacy and security of the teleconsultation can be ensured.
What conditions and occupational health assessments are appropriate for a medical teleconsultation?
Currently we are conducting both absence management referral assessments as well as both coronavirus (COVID-19) return to work and coronavirus (COVID-19) health risk assessments via teleconsultation. This is because most absence management assessments are well suited to teleconsultation. A coronavirus return to work assessment for an employee who has had suspected or confirmed COVID-19 is of course only able to be carried out by teleconsultation, as a result of these employees self-isolating in their homes.
What are the benefits of an occupational health teleconsultation?
There are many benefits that a teleconsultation can bring. Firstly, as a result of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the enhanced risk that all healthcare workers face, the need to ensure social distancing is paramount. However, additional benefits of teleconsultations include freeing up the time and expense of the employee having to travel and commute, either by public transport (which can be higher risk at the current time) or car to the occupational health clinic for their assessment. Not only does this save the employee and their organisation time, but it also saves carbon dioxide emissions as a results of travelling, which means that teleconsultations are actually a greener method of conducting medical examinations. A knock on reduction in stress as a result of travelling in high traffic at rush hour and a reduction in pollution levels in local areas will not only be good for both the local communities of the employee but also those living around the occupational health clinic.
Many employees also cite that it is less stressful having the assessment conducted in their own home or in a private room at their employment, rather than travelling to an assessment.
Do you have an employee who would benefit from an occupational health teleconsultation?
After finding out more information from our blog post you may have an employee who is perhaps off of work on sick leave or who has suspected or confirmed COVID-19, with this employee needing to be safely returned to the workplace when this is able to happen. One of our teleconsultations would be very beneficial here for this employee to ensure they can be safely brought back into the workplace or to continue working from home with any support required.
OH3 can assess almost all conditions by video-consultation or phone, usually within 3 days and have a report back to you within 3 days of that assessment. Your employee doesn’t have to leave their own home or travel anywhere.
Each referral comes with its own booking/referral form and instructions for what kind of information we need to assess your employee. Our admin team will contact you with an appointment time for an assessment.
If you want more information then you can read more about our absence management assessments here: Absence Management Assessment
Alternatively, see our coronavirus (COVID-19) information here which contains details of our various coronavirus occupational medical services, as well as some important information for employers such as useful links, just follow the link here: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
If you would like to make a booking for a teleconsultation call us on 0191 653 1001 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OH3, Your Trusted Occupational Health Provider.