With many IT products specifically designed for occupational health on the
market, the time has come for organisations to wake up to the significant
rewards they offer. By Simon Kent
Occupational health IT systems rarely figure prominently in an organisation’s
IT investment plans. One of the main problems is the balance between the cost
of and benefits gained from such systems – return on investment can be
difficult to forecast. There is also a tendency, particularly in large
organisations, to treat occupational health as a unique in-house function,
which therefore requires a unique in-house managed system. External companies
don’t understand the needs of the organisation, and besides, whatever system is
in use has evolved over the years and appears to meet today’s demands quite
Wide choice of products available
In spite of this, the occupational health IT market has continued to evolve,
and there are now many products on the market that deliver clear returns on
investment with many advantages over in-house created and managed solutions.
Systems such as the OHSSYS solution from Quantum Computing support all forms of
health surveillance as well as providing clinical record-keeping, health
screening functions, sickness absence management and accident tracking.
Quantum’s system can also be customised for individual organisations and
interfaces with personnel and payroll systems to offer search functions and
reporting tools without compromising employee confidentiality.
Automation of everyday tasks
Everyday administration tasks are fully automated, from appointment
scheduling to employee correspondence. By recording and analysing occupational
health information – inoculations, participation in training courses and employee
accidents – occupational health staff can make a real contribution to their
organisation, increasing the productivity of the workforce and decreasing the
risk of litigation through health issues. It took time for organisations to
realise the value that could be gained from the use of human resources IT
systems, and in the same way it will take time for organisations to wake up to
the significant rewards which can be achieved through a good occupational
health IT system.
A clear benefit of being one of the later areas addressed by IT solution
providers is that occupational health systems can take advantage of tried and
tested technology. Systems are now being rolled out using secure Internet
connections and offering user-friendly interfaces. Even the most technophobic
occupational health professional can get to grips with these systems.
Access via the Internet
CamAxys recently launched version 6 of its occupational health solution
Cam-Health in a web-enabled format. The complete solution comprises modules for
managing every facet of occupational health including controlling exposure to
hazardous substances, tracking accidents and scheduling training events.
The Internet platform brings benefits to users beyond ease of use. Delivered
as an application service provider solution, CamAxys takes responsibility for
maintaining the technology behind the solution while the client simply accesses
its system across the Internet. This arrangement also means the system can be
rolled out to diverse and even international locations without having to invest
in dedicated technology or installing new software.
Software for large organisations
Whitestrand Software’s Staffcare health system has been developed
specifically for large organisations, serving diverse locations across wide or
local area networks. According to Tony Lovering, marketing director of
Whitestrand, Staffcare grew out of the company’s work within the NHS.
"Our immunisation system addressed workers in hospital departments
where immunisation programmes are necessary for employees who work directly
with patients," he explains.
"It became clear that these departments could benefit from greater
health surveillance functions and so we developed a complete product which
embraces almost everything such a department needs." Built using Oracle
technology, the solution will be particularly useful for health sector
organisations since it will readily key into the Oracle-based HR and payroll
systems proposed for 2002.
Interactive health care
While some suppliers focus on specific industry sectors and others
concentrate on delivering updates of well-established products, there is one
supplier which could revolutionise technology use in occupational health.
Steve Burt is chief executive officer of BenefitsU, a company that has
created a complete Internet-based occupational health management solution,
bringing interactive health care and advice to employees alongside
comprehensive reporting and management functions for health professionals.
Burt believes the system can be used by organisations regardless of size and
estimates most organisations will be able to implement the solution for around
£50 per employee.
"About four years ago I started researching the way occupational health
and employee wellness was being delivered," he explains.
"I recognised there was some superb talent out there – technicians,
doctors and care providers – but there was a lack of a management system that
provided a platform where these people could communicate with each other and
with their patients and employees."
Burt’s solution, BenefitsU Lifecare System (www.benefitsu.com) went live
earlier this year. An interactive website, it has two sides – one for
employees, and one for management. From the front, employees can access
information, exercises and interactive advice.
There’s a health check test that analyses the individual’s lifestyle and
links with further programmes offering relevant advice and practical things to
do. Health and safety training can be delivered and verified and there’s even
the chance to correspond with external health experts on a wide range of
Behind this is a "back entrance" for health care professionals.
This part of the website offers full reporting facilities on activities carried
out by employees on the site as well as offering tools for customising site
content. Health professionals can design and create training exercises,
questionnaires or information resources specific to the company or individual
employee and can track whether that information is accessed and understood by
Encryption technology is used across the entire system ensuring that each
employee’s details remain confidential at all times. The health manager
receives information about the workforce without identifying individuals while
employees are free to seek medical advice in complete confidence.
Dr Jim Keech, health manager of BP UK upstream, has been considering
BenefitsU as a solution for BP on an international basis.
"What’s on offer here is a whole platform which offers the health
professional a number of solutions," he says.
"There are a large number of health-related websites on the Internet
but few come with such a comprehensive range of facilities."
Again, web-based delivery means the solution is scaleable for any number of
employees while individual organisations can determine the extent of the
service offered to their workforce. They may use the system simply as an
employee resource for healthcare information or use it as a complete occupational
health management system.
All of these solutions can bring real and long-term benefits to the general
health of an organisation’s workforce. Whether investing in a comprehensive
solution or simply a dedicated system for one aspect of health management,
there are now many solutions which offer functionality for health care support
in diverse organisations. It is now up to the health professionals to take the
initiative and implement the most suitable solution for their workplace.