Are e-sicknotes the way forward?

Government plans to introduce electronic sicknotes from GPs have been met with a vocal response from the doctoring community.

Some feel the automated certification system will help employers overcome the age-old challenge of deciphering GP’s handwriting, as well as allow doctors to include more detailed information on a patient’s condition in the remarks section of the new e-form.

Others, however, have voiced their fears that IT-savvy employees may be able to wangle more time off work by hacking into the system and creating bogus forms.

But how has the idea of electronic sick notes been received by the HR profession?

Among those who spoke to Personnel Today there was general feeling that if electronic sick notes lead to more detailed information on an employee’s condition reaching the employer, this would be good.

“More detail will benefit both the employer and the individual because both sides can suffer when information about a medical condition is not complete,” says Jane Burt, HR director at energy company BP.

Helpful information could include advice on whether an employee is capable of working reduced hours or if they are still able to perform a desk job. Opinion on how long an individual should stay off work or what their likely course of treatment will consist of could also be valuable. “Information like this helps managers understand timeframes and make decisions about workforce planning, and ensures the employee is treated appropriately by their organisation,” adds Burt.

But Andreanna Eyre, group HR director at software company Network Data Holdings remains unconvinced as to whether doctors will be forthcoming with this extra detail.

She says: “In my experience, when patients are after a sicknote doctors can’t get rid of them quick enough. They find them a real pain.”

And while there has traditionally been tension between GP organisations and employers’ bodies because doctors complain this task takes up valuable time, Ben Willmott, employee relations adviser at the CIPD, points out doctors do have an obligation to their patients.

“It’s in the patient’s interest that their employers have adequate information to help them achieve a successful long-term recovery and return to work,” he says.

“The right information at this point could prevent employees bouncing back to doctors and ultimately reduce doctors’ workloads overtime.”

According to Willmott, a recent poll of CIPD members found that 80% feel GPs should work closer with employers when it comes to helping employees back to work and preventing them from falling into the long-term absent category.

He says building a work programme of reduced hours with advice from doctors has, in many cases, proven to be an important stepping stone in getting employees back to full-time work.

“Only about 40% of organisations have a sufficient rehabilitation processes in place and anything that can help an individual make a successful phased return to work has to be a good thing,” says Willmott.

And as for concerns that electronic sick notes could be manipulated by hackers to bunk off work – there is general agreement that any potential risks are outweighed by the possible benefits.

“Today, an increasing number of services are driven by technology, such as internet banking,” says Eyre at Network Data Holdings.

“If you are going to say that electronic sicknotes could be abused then you have to say that about a whole raft of things that have proved to be pretty reliable,” she adds.




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