Occupational (tele)medicine - keeping workplaces well in a COVID-19 world
COVID-19 has heralded transformation across many sectors.
This includes a huge change in the way healthcare is being delivered. Almost overnight it seems like the GP clinics of Australia, the specialists, the allied health and all those associated have opened their virtual clinic doors.
Workplace health services are no different – except that Phoenix Occupational Medicine has been delivering telemedicine services to clients for some time – yes, even pre-COVID-19.
Why is it important workplaces know about telemedicine?
Despite widespread closures across some industry sectors, there are many workplaces still operating – and often under more pressure than ever – so workplace injury / illness is still occurring. But who is looking after the health of our workers?
We asked Dr Brett Shannon, Occupational and Environmental Physician Registrar, who is one of the team of doctors operating Phoenix Occupational Medicine’s Telemedicine-line to explain the service.
“The main benefit of telemedicine is that we can provide almost instant review post-injury and provide immediate advice and worker reassurance.” - Dr Brett Shannon.
“We can make a diagnosis and put into place immediate precautionary duties to prevent exacerbation. If necessary, we will arrange for a face to face consult. I see great value in keeping the worker reassured and the workplace able to keep workers on appropriate duties.” Dr Shannon explained.
Telemedicine works well for a range of conditions. The kinds of diagnoses which the Phoenix Occupational 'Tele' Medicine team manage are many and varied including:
- contact dermatitis
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- upper respiratory tract infections - to name just a few.
Of course, not all health issues can be completely managed via telemedicine.
Dr Shannon noted that the value of telemedicine is its rapid response to reassure and then connect workers to the right face to face service, “Where appropriate, we will arrange for a face to face consult – at our clinic in Brisbane’s CBD, with a physiotherapist or referral to another specialist.”
The workplace experience
A number of Phoenix Occupational Medicine's clients have been making use of the service – both before and during the current COVID-19 restrictions.
Since the internal requirements of each workplace are different, this also shapes how organisations use telemedicine. While one large manufacturing client has used the service mainly to provide clearance to return to work for workers following upper respiratory tract type illness (cough / colds) and keep the teams calm in the midst of COVID-19 panic, others are looking to manage a range of health symptoms.
Dr Sabrina Virji, a Phoenix Occupational and Environmental Physician Registrar and regular voice on the telemedicine line reported she has provided consultations to workers who had musculoskeletal symptoms, those experiencing heat illness, and others with skin rashes and even chemical burns.
Dr Virji related that part of the skill is obtaining a good history from the worker and gaining a rapport. She explained “We provide a rapid response to health issues and most workers report it has reduced their anxiety through addressing their concerns quickly.”
What does a regular day at the Phoenix Occupational 'tele' Medicine clinic look like?
The team of health professionals staff the virtual clinic from 8 am to 4 pm Monday to Friday, which operates over a telephone and secure Cisco Webex platform.
At the end of the contact, a written report is provided to the employer – whilst maintaining patient confidentiality of sensitive details.
Does occupational telemedicine replace a worker's regular doctor?
“Definitely not”, emphasised Dr Shannon. “A worker’s relationship with their own doctor is critically important. We don’t see our service as replacing the GP but working with GPs.”
Dr Sid O’Toole, Occupational and Environmental Physician (OEP) and one of the directors of Phoenix Occupational Medicine is passionate about working with GPs, but acknowledges that many GPs are unfamiliar with the role OEPs can play in getting their patients back to work safely.
“I consult out of a number of GP clinics as part of our regional Queensland service and find GPs are pleased to hear about the role of Occupational and Environmental Medicine practitioners and how they can work with GPs.” related Dr O’Toole,
“Our value is to support GPs and workers / workplace in workplace specific medicine. And now more than ever, when GPs are busy managing COVID-19, we can be here to keep the rehabilitation of the workforce progressing.
"Our GPs in Australia are doing a great job in challenging times. We want to assist as much as we can, because when this is over Australia needs a workforce fit to work.” - Dr Sid O'Toole
How easy is it to access telemedicine?
The secure technology is accessible across most devices and simple to use .
All you need is a phone and phone line or a device with internet access, and you are good to go.
A workplace can refer to Phoenix Occupational Medicine for telemedicine by contacting our bookings team on 07 3333 2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll help make the arrangements.
Online bookings will be coming shortly.