Occupational health professionals are being left stressed and exhausted by the intense time and workload pressures put on them by employers and OH providers, and this was even before the coronavirus pandemic hit our healthcare system and economy, a survey by SOM has concluded.
The poll of approximately 140 Society of Occupational Medicine members looked at a range of issues around the time allowed for appointments, report writing, assessment, administration, and paperwork.
It concluded practitioners were feeling under almost constant deadline pressure to complete case management, health surveillance and risk assessments and write up reports, and were often having to complete work out of hours. Many were feeling stressed and lacking in work-life balance as a result, and often felt undervalued or exhausted, or both.
As one respondent put it: “We need to practice what we preach to clients and make workloads manageable, with a focus on job satisfaction and quality service rather than churning out numbers to continually exceed/increase profits at the expense of dedicated staff.”
“Our own health and safety is at risk from not having time to take a postural break or use the bathroom. No time for support after a tough case and no time to support colleagues,” added another.
Other comments included: “Exhausted and overworked. I am 67 almost 68, so struggling.” “OH advisors/nurses often feel undervalued by OH providers – just a money-making number.”
When asked how much time they were provided on average for an initial OH referral appointment, more than half (57%) said they got a full hour, with a quarter (25%) getting 45 minutes. The rest were evenly spread, with 3% each saying they got 30 minutes, 75 minutes, and an hour-and-a-half respectively.
Although broadly two-thirds were satisfied with what they had been allocated (61% versus 33%), it was clear many also felt under time and workload pressure as a result, with many “making up” in their personal time.
As one respondent put it: “It is impossible to undertake a remote telephone consultation and write the report within the time allocated. I am expected to undertake eight consultations a day over 7.5 hours. On Friday I worked until midnight. I frequently work until 20.00. No paid overtime.”
I am expected to undertake eight consultations a day over 7.5 hours. On Friday I worked until midnight.”
Although for nearly three-quarters (73%) the referral appointment time did include time for report writing, many felt the time allocated for doing this was insufficient.
One respondent highlighted how they were normally given 15-20 minutes to write, check and publish their report and complete any onward referrals, for example to physiotherapy or counselling, adding: “It is unachievable, particularly when having very high audit criteria for reports (and rightly so), but when doing seven/eight cases in a day the pressure is too much and causes stress.”
Another said: “I usually end up writing reports in my own time, which is not good for work-life balance.”
Equally, when it came to time for administration, although more than half (54%) were given dedicated time for this, many again found the allocation completely inadequate.
One respondent highlighted how they got just 30 minutes a day to prepare for cases, finish reports, make onward referrals, complete referral forms, undertake general admin and answer emails, adding there was “never enough time to complete everything that is required.”
When it came to the sort of health surveillance, fitness to work or safety-critical medical work most undertook, 80% cited height and weight checks with a similar percentage reviewing health questionnaires.
Audiometry (73%) and spirometry (83%) were also commonplace, as was blood pressure and heart rate checking and vision assessment (both 70%).
Other common tasks included checking BMI (63%), skin checks (60%), musculo-skeletal assessments (50%), and hand-arm vibration assessment (43%). Less commonplace, though still a regular activity, was urine analysis (40%) and checking blood sugar (10%).
This is why I became an independent OH provider, answerable only to myself and to my clients.
I was utterly amazed to discover some very well known businesses only provided 30 minutes to conduct a detailed assessment of someone’s medical history, capacity and/or capability. It’s so difficult to provide high quality healthcare in those circumstances.
I thoroughly echo Nic’s comments above, taking that step is liberating. If you find yourself on a hamster-wheel with a big provider, then maybe make a move.
Life is simply too short to be miserable at work. Take the plunge and do your own thing, or get in touch with another OH business – we are not all the same.