Getting the most out of occupational health services

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An innovative online training package aims to help businesses to get the most out of their OH services by encouraging more awareness of what OH can do for them. Nicole Martin reports.

From creating a safe and productive professional environment to helping long-term absentees return to work, OH plays a vital role in maintaining organisational performance.

However, OH provider Corporate Health argues that a stalemate between OH and HR is stopping OH from reaching its full potential. The charity has launched an online training package to address this, which has been shortlisted in the 2013 Occupational Health Awards.

Managing director Brett Edwards has witnessed that poor communication and understanding hamper firms’ ability to get the most out of OH.

“Organisations in the UK only use [OH] when they have a serious problem and, for me, not enough have relationships with their providers,” he says. “In a lot of cases, there is no dialogue about their businesses to allow them to get support before they have an issue. OH providers should be trusted partners to any HR manager.

HR managers can get upset if they are not getting exactly what they want, but there is a problem if your customer’s perception of their needs is wrong, as they will then be expecting something that isn’t right” – Dr Charlie Vivian, Corporate Health

“I compare it to taking a car to the garage – do it when you have a little problem and it is easy to fix, but leave it until the engine blows up and all of a sudden it’s more complex and costs a lot of money to sort out.”

The impression of OH as a knight in shining armour to be called into action only when times get tough is just one manifestation of a much wider issue. A general lack of knowledge of what OH can and cannot deliver can result in bad feeling between HR managers, who feel that they are not getting a good enough service from their OH providers.

Understanding of OH

For Dr Charlie Vivian, Corporate Health’s medical director, building a greater understanding of OH’s function is the only way businesses are able to unlock its true potential.

“HR managers can get upset if they are not getting exactly what they want, but there is a problem if your customer’s perception of their needs is wrong, as they will then be expecting something that isn’t right,” says Vivian.

“Where a huge opportunity exists is in getting people to think much more clearly about what it is they want, because if people don’t know what they should be getting, they will ultimately be disappointed.”

Getting employers to engage more effectively with the OH profession may be no small feat, but better use of technology may help the solution.

The charity’s online training package aims to foster a closer working relationship between HR and OH and boost education about OH’s responsibilities. It provides customers with a cost-effective method of learning how to get the best return on their investment.

HR-OH interaction

“We are on a mission to get HR interacting with OH and thinking much more clearly and critically about it,” says Edwards.

“There are cases where people working in HR complain about the problems they have with OH, but it’s important to recognise that it isn’t always a problem with one provider – it’s the whole industry, which is why there is so much customer churn, especially among the bigger providers.

We are saying that we need to approach the relationship differently, to work a lot more closely and understand what can be delivered to support one another” – Brett Edwards, Corporate Health


“We are saying that we need to approach the relationship differently, to work a lot more closely and understand what can be delivered to support one another. For instance, HR shouldn’t always take what a doctor says as gospel because actually it’s an opinion. If they challenge things, they will get better outcomes.”

Vivian says employers and HR should be more questioning – even if that makes more work for OH providers.

“If we are right in encouraging managers to push back, we could be looking at a revolution where change is being led by the customer,” says Vivian. “Trying to get OH to change its beliefs and perceptions is really difficult, but if the customers are more aware of what they should be expecting, OH will have no choice but to adapt.”

Five tips for employers to get the most from OH

  1. Forge a close relationship with your provider.
  2. Approach your provider early to ensure small issues do not develop into big problems.
  3. Do not be afraid to ask your provider questions.
  4. Be realistic about what OH can and cannot achieve and be willing to take responsibility for areas not covered.
  5. Ensure that you and your organisation know how to get the best value from OH by seeking training.

While the need for HR professionals to play a more active role in OH is clear, Corporate Health argues that things can improve only with equal effort from the other side of the fence.

OH failures

Edwards says some OH providers are guilty of lacking commercial focus and failing to tailor their services to their customers’ specific needs, and he admits that Corporate Health has not been immune to these failings in the past.

“The OH industry has done the same thing for so many years because no one has looked at what the customers need,” says Edwards. “We are training our doctors to be more commercially focused, to understand how business runs and how best to service the customer and their needs. I don’t think a lot of providers understand that this is a commercial service, so moving to our way of thinking is something of a revolution.

“Ultimately, it’s our job as industry experts to educate customers about what we can and can’t deliver and how best they can use it.”

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