Definition and Overview
Occupational medicine follow-up is a meeting with an expert who specializes in factors and conditions that affect occupational health. These are those that involve the health, well-being, safety, performance and delivery of employees in the work place.
Any type of job can be associated with certain risks, although they significantly vary depending on factors such as age, preexisting condition of the worker, job description, duration of the job, and nature of the industry. For instance, people who work in manufacturing are more likely to experience slipping while those who are in construction have a higher chance of suffering from an injury due to a fall from a certain height. Meanwhile, individuals who are doing desk jobs are vulnerable to back pain and wrist disorders. Their sedentary lifestyle also increases the likelihood of obesity, which then boosts the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Occupational medicine, which falls under clinical medicine, aims to prevent injuries and illnesses in the workplace. If they cannot be completely prevented, the goals will be to minimise exposure and spread, treat the condition and help the patient deal with it.
A follow-up completes the occupational medicine process, which ensures that recommendations during the initial consultation are monitored and adjusted if needed. This way, the worker’s health is preserved or improved.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
Occupational medicine follow-up is recommended for:
Workers who have been injured – Work-related injuries are common, although the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014 report has emphasized that the trend is declining. Nevertheless, at least 3 in every 100 full-time employees still experience non-fatal injuries in relation to or while doing their jobs. The follow-up is necessary to monitor the progress of recovery, reduce injury risks and complications and manage them should they occur.
Employees who develop work-related conditions – A workplace is often considered as an environmental factor that can affect a person’s health or well-being. For example, the repetitive use of a body part may lead to the development of a musculoskeletal disorder, as well as disability. Other common illnesses related to work are inflammation of the joints and tendons such as arthritis and back pain. The follow-up care is intended to help the patient manage these conditions, continue to treat them, or avoid the appearance of more complex diseases and complications.
People who may be exposed to health hazards – Nurses and doctors, for example, are continuously exposed to biohazards including but not limited to contaminated blood, vomit and urine. The follow-up is recommended to carry out tests to determine if workers have developed any condition. After which the necessary treatment and/or management plans are implemented.
Companies that sought for consultation – Health experts and other occupational medicine professionals may conduct a follow-up to check if the company has followed or implemented proposals, guidelines and standards set during the initial consultation stage.
How Does the Procedure Work?
A follow-up happens after the initial consultation. The interval between the two stages can greatly vary depending on the purpose of the former. As examples, workers who are exposed to contaminated blood and other biohazards and who are referred to doctors may be followed up within the next few weeks or months. Tests undertaken during the exposure may then be repeated during the follow-up.
Based on the results, the doctors may suggest a post-exposure vaccination, as well as treatment or management of the disease, with the objective of helping the patient cope with the condition while in the workplace and minimising exposure of other workers.
The unaffected workers, on the other hand, may be brought in so they can be educated on how to avoid exposure and recurrence of the same injury or condition in the future.
If the follow-up is in relation to a work-related consultation—that is, an expert is invited to generate proposals and standards—the follow-up is often conducted at longer intervals such as every three to six months or at least once a year. This is to give the company and workers time to implement and follow such recommendations.
During the follow-up, the group performs a revisit where they review the recommendations, which are also based on existing worker laws set by the federal and state governments, and compare them with the actual implementation. Whenever necessary, such suggestions are updated, changed, or removed altogether.
Possible Risks and Complications
The biggest risk is the failure of a follow-up, which can happen in many different scenarios. The company may no longer support doctor’s visits, which could mean workers are likely to incur out-of-pocket expenses that can be too much. Workers may also find it difficult to follow through with their doctor’s appointments or may completely ignore these appointments. Follow-up care is a collaborative effort, and all parties should promote it. In cases where the patient lacks the motivation, it’s the responsibility of the health care team and the company to remind and stress the benefits of follow-ups.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Stress...At Work. Updated June 6, 2014. www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101