Can you trust a telephone Occupational Health assessment?
Telephone assessments have become the common approach to Occupational Health. Honeydew Health also now recommends teleconsultations in many cases and we often face some resistance from managers who are new to the telephone appointments. Here is our list of useful facts and frequently asked questions about telephone assessments in OH case management.
It has long been the main frustration with OH provision that it can take a very long time to get an appointment and to get a report. In the weeks that it takes to arrange a clinic appointment, the opportunities to proactively assist and employee to return to work diminish. For example, sometimes a phased return could have been started weeks before instead of waiting for the paperwork. With telephone Occupational Health assessments, an appointment time can usually be arranged within a week and report turnaround is a lot quicker, too. Whatever recommendations the OH practitioner comes back with can then be put into action a lot sooner.
Part of the reason why telephone appointments are so quick to arrange is because the employee doesn’t need to travel anywhere to attend. They can simply stay at home or at work and find a private room to take the call from the OH advisor. It’s easy to find times that suit when you are not trying to find a slot in your local one-day-per-week OHP clinic. Especially for employees with poor mobility, severe ill health or anxiety this can be a lot better approach.
But can you really assess the employee’s condition on the phone?
What many people might not realise is that OH practitioners do not normally undertake a physical examination of the employee – not even at face-to-face appointments. The patient’s GP or NHS specialist handles the diagnosis and treatment of the condition and the OH clinician only assesses the fitness to work. In OH, the clinician relies on the employee for information about their condition. In complex cases, a letter to the GP can help explain or confirm the medical details and the treatment plan (more about GP reports here).
What if the employee lies?
If we are relying on the employee to explain what the diagnosis is then surely the chances of them lying to the OH practitioner are high. Taking that argument on its own, the likelihood of an employee lying at the OH appointment are just as high in person as they are on the phone so it should not discredit telephone assessments. On the whole, it is possible, of course, that the employee may lie. However, most people with a genuine ill health complaint welcome any help in getting better and will have no reason to lie about their condition. If the manager suspects that an employee is being disingenuous about their illness, it becomes a much more delicate situation to manage. Most OH doctors or nurses will not want to be put in the position to comment on accuracy of the diagnosis. They will simply give an opinion on whether and what type of work the employee can do.
Quicker referral to treatment
The OH practitioner will not prescribe treatment. Again, that is the job of the GP or specialist. They can suggest what type of treatment could help the employee return to work more quickly e.g. physiotherapy or counselling. Some employers can offer these services to the employee much quicker than the NHS and knowing what you can do to help can cut shorten the length of an absence or even mean that the employee doesn’t go absent in the first place.
Telephone assessments aren’t suitable for all situations
So far in this article, we’ve been very pro telephone assessments. They are often a good alternative to traditional clinic OH appointments but they aren’t the right option for everyone. Telephone appointments aren’t suitable for employees with communication problems or very complex medical conditions. A professional OH practitioner will identify cases that are better suited for face-to-face assessments.
To find out more about Occupational Health services, contact us or visit our sister website, honeydew-health.com. Engage absence management software is not our only product – we also offer easy access to ad hoc OH services via our online case management portal, Resolve.
Read more about telephone Occupational Health assessments in this government paper.