Understanding what makes a good occupational health provider

People walking to work

Occupational health providers can capitalise on the growing demand, and appetite, for workplace health solutions – but only if they listen harder to what both employers and employees are actually asking for, argues Dr Philip McCrea.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” This quote from American business guru Stephen R Covey can be applied to a large proportion of businesses. They pay lip service to the needs of their customers, but push a set agenda of products and services that are beneficial to business, not the customer.

The value of listening

About the author

Dr Philip McCrea is chief medical officer at BHSF

To provide effective occupational health support, it’s vital to really listen to what issues your customer has. Throughout my 30-year career, I’ve noticed the same mistakes being made by providers again and again. By not listening to their customer’s problems and needs, they are often misunderstanding what the business wants. They fall short in the following areas:

  • Not providing answers to specific questions asked
  • Providing an employee-centric report that only looks at one side of the problem
  • Avoiding giving an objective opinion

Why do other providers get it wrong?

Most of the time, I believe this is down to a lack of fully trained and experienced occupational health experts. In the last ten years, we’ve seen a drastic drop in the number of occupational health practitioners. More and more medical practitioners, with only basic qualifications in occupational health, are coming into the market.

This has affected the level of service that customers receive, predominantly because they don’t understand how occupational health works in practise. They can be easily swayed by employee testimonies and provide employers with subjective reports.

Time is precious

As companies seek to compete in a more competitive environment, employees are being asked to do more work in the same amount of time, often for no extra money. HR teams want to keep their employees healthy and in work. Occupational health should recognise these time pressures and make its services as accessible as possible.

For example, in response to requests from our customers in the south east of England, we recently moved our occupational health clinic to Harley Street. With our services now available in the heart of the capital, better transport links mean that visits to occupational health cause minimum disruption to an employee’s working day.

Changing workforces need new requirements

Shifting demographics and growing economic pressure means the workforce is ageing. This has led to an increase in musculoskeletal conditions, such as back problems or arthritis, particularly among employees with more physical jobs.

As occupational health providers, we need to identify macro trends and work with our customers to suggest reasonable adjustments that can be made. These can prevent injuries from happening in the first place, or allow us to step in as soon as possible with a solution.

Another major concern for employers is the mental health of their workforce. Most of our customers know they need to address this. But they are often confused or uncertain about where to begin.

As an objective third-party, we can therefore work with both the employer and the employee to identify underlying issues and get appropriate treatment as soon as possible.

Taking ownership and providing consistency

For small and medium-sized businesses, dealing with sickness absence is not something they do on a regular basis. The average HR manager will have a vast array of responsibilities and a huge to-do list. When they do come across a sickness absence problem, it can often be the first time they’ve encountered it. Knowing who to turn to and the best course of action can be difficult.

By listening to the concerns of these businesses, we know they want someone with the knowledge and expertise to lead them by the hand, and guide them through each step. They appreciate having a dedicated point of contact who knows their business, and can offer a consistent approach.

By building a partnership and listening to customer needs, occupational health suppliers can form trusting relationships and deliver tangible results.

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