Occupational Health: When You Need More Than a GP
General practitioners (GPs) are traditionally an employee’s first port of call when they are unable to attend work due to an illness or health condition and many employers therefore rely on the advice given by the GP in regards to fitness to work and the issue of fit notes.
One of the principle reasons why an employer should seek advice and input from occupational health when it comes to employee health is the main premise of the role of a GP compared to an occupational health practitioner, namely, the fact that the latter is generally viewed as an advocacy role, as opposed to the one of impartiality when it comes to the effect that a role has on health.
Let’s be honest, the remit of occupational health is changing.
It’s widely accepted that approximately 75% of long-term sickness absence is attributable to poor mental health and that long-term conditions make up a significant proportion of a GP’s workload, and thus, public health.
It’s reported that 30% of GP consultations have a mental health component, 12% are for musculoskeletal problems and 49% involve pain as part of the presentation.
Clinically, the case-mix in primary care and that in occupational health has never been closer.
Ask yourself, when was the last time your GP asked what you did for a living? Taking into account that in order to understand the impact of the role on health, as well as the medications prescribed on the nature of the role, it goes some way to suggest that there’s a gap when looking at the health of a workforce where we rely solely on a GP’s support.
This isn’t designed to bash the GPs who are at heart a fantastic resource that have enough of their own patient’s issues to contend with, without being asked to support an area that they just aren’t an expert in (with the exception of the 1500 GPs that hold a diploma in occ health of course).
However, it is fair to say that engaging with occupational health provides an organisation and their workforce more support and helps them to determine which specialist is necessary for the business.
When do you need more than a GP for your employees?
What’s the difference?
The confusion around seeking the advice of a GP versus that of an occupational health professional often comes down to a lack of understanding around the differences between the two.
A GP is usually the first stop for an individual when they are unwell and have a health concern, as a GP is qualified to treat a range of health conditions – these tend to be health concerns and conditions incurred outside of the workplace.
An occupational health professional specialises in work-related health conditions, and are qualified to assess and treat work-related injuries, assist in managing health and safety, and provide medical assessments for employees.
Injuries gained at work or as a result of it, employee medicals, exposure to harmful substances or physical hazards, musculoskeletal concerns and health monitoring all fall under the remit of occupational health.
You want expert insight
For an employer, there is certainly a big difference between knowing of a health condition or injury, and being given advice and insight into how to manage such a health condition in the workplace.
Primarily, a GP’s focus is on treating patients rather than supporting employers, and this can quickly become apparent when considering the difference in the length of the process to reach a solution for employees and the employer.
An occupational health professional can provide insights and advice on:
– A phased return to the workplace
– Prognosis of condition
– Whether the condition is work-related
– Implications of the Equality Act (whether it applies)
– Ergonomic factors
– Reasonable adjustments
– Whether a stress risk assessment may be required
These factors encompass health in the workplace, specifically, workplace capabilities relating to a condition.
Comparatively, a GP has a focus on the medical condition itself – not on its implications on the workplace or correlation with it.
You require advice in line with context
For a work-related health concern, knowledge of the workplace and the type of work being performed is essential.
Occupational health professionals are trained in understanding the types of work individuals perform, and also the workplace itself.
Unlike a GP, an occupational health practitioner is not relying solely on the employee as the source of information, but instead, takes into consideration a wider scope of factors and how they may impact the employee.
This is central to the way that occupational health practitioners work, given that occupational health on the whole is about how work affects a person’s health, and how someone’s health affects their work.
When it comes to matters of health, it is likely that we would all favour a specialist over a generalist.
You understand the wider implications
There are clear legal, business, and cost implications when addressing employee health.
You are likely considering advice beyond what a GP can offer for these very implications, as a GP would need to consult specialists in most cases anyway.
Additionally, it’s not just the services offered but also the legal situation that may present itself, which an occupational health practitioner is knowledgeable to handle.
The introduction of preventative measures is also another aspect of wider implications that can be overlooked, even though preventative action is far more favourable than a reactive approach.
Research has shown that being in work is better for health and wellbeing than being out of work, with those in healthy and safe work living much longer than those out of work – overall, the beneficial effects of work outweigh the risks of working, though these risks should still be adequately addressed and prevented against.
The bottom line
As with most services that employers seek out, context and needs are important.
Making sure that your employees’ health is looked after in a wider context that benefits the safety and health of the entire workplace is a priority.
Health doesn’t begin and end with knowledge of the condition, it continues in the approach to the condition in the workplace and the elimination or reduction of risks that could further impact health in the workplace.
For expert guidance and peace of mind, an occupational health professional should be the first point of contact for you and your business.
If you’re struggling to find the best occupational health provider for your needs, our easy to use platform can help, narrowed down by service and practitioner type.