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Telephone health assessments can be a useful way to provide a fast and effective OH service. Catherine Darcy-Jones and Anne Harriss look at good practice, in the third and last in a series on management reports in occupational health.
Occupational health as a speciality has had to respond to the changing face and demands of business, especially with the cost of long-term sickness absence (LTS) impacting on businesses’ financial bottom line. There is increased pressure on agreed sickness key performance indicators (KPIs) for OH to have assessed the employee and given the advice in a written format within a quicker time frame.
LTS absence and its costs have a huge impact on businesses. In 2014, sickness absence equated to an average of 2.8% of working time per year (6.5 days) per employee costing £11-16 billion. Prevalence of sickness absence was noted as being higher within the public sector than the private sector. In 2015 alone, long-term absence equated to £1 billion in the manufacturing sector (EEF, 2015).
This focus has gained increased importance when it comes to the services OH provides, as practitioners respond to business demands and become more aware of the commercial pressures placed on them to deliver added value.
One way to address this increased business pressure is to move away from the more traditional face-to-face assessment typically carried out by OH advisers to offering telephone assessments for advice. It can be argued that this is a more efficient use of an OH adviser’s time as it means you can deliver more assessments over the telephone than face to face.
Clinical information entered on to standard templates for both clinical notes and reports reduces the wait for a separate administrator to type up a dictated report. If a face-to-face assessment is required, the telephone assessment acts more like a triage service and the assessment can be progressed on to this, therefore more effectively using the diminishing OH adviser resource.
More than 80% of a diagnosis is formulated from the clinical history taken (Gray and Toghill, 2000), but there is growing evidence that this history can be gained just as effectively through a telephone assessment as it can through the traditional face-to-face approach (Burton et al, 2013).
There are common concerns linked to telephone assessment from all parties – the employer, the employee and the OH adviser – but if the telephone assessment is carried out