The Association of Occupational Health and Wellbeing Professionals​

Supporting you through your Occupational Health career

Over 1000 Members
Registered Charity No. 1205635

Data driven Occupational Health: Why is it important?

By Nikki Cordell, Cordell Health

Published 12 September 2023

In this article, Dr Nikki Cordell, CEO of Cordell Health, and a keen proponent of technology in the occupational health sector shares how we can use data to improve the quality and evidence base of occupational health practice. She will also explore how the profession can harness the power of technology to support their clinical practice and improve outcomes.

 

How should clinicians use data in decision-making?  Whilst clinical experience is a key factor, as clinicians we need to be careful that unconscious bias doesn’t influence the specialist advice we provide to both employee and employer. Within the sector, we promote occupational health as being independent and evidence based, but how much of our decision-making meets these criteria.  Therefore, it is essential we consider what data we use to help inform our decisions and opinion, its quality and how it’s both accessed and interpreted.

You can’t manage what you can’t measure” is a well-known quote by management guru Peter Drucker.

This does have relevance to occupational health practice. The more sophisticated we are in how we measure, what we measure and how we manage data, the more robust and evidence-based our specialist advice becomes.  Data collection and analysis of health metrics, combined with harnessing targeted information published in evidence based publications relevant to the case in hand, can provide a tailored approach to the advice and recommendations we provide as clinicians.

Why is data quality so important to occupational health?

Primarily because the better the quality of the data available to practitioners, the more confident we can be in the advice we provide to inform decision making within our day to day work. Good quality data helps us move beyond mere assumptions and subjective judgments avoiding our unconscious biases. Stepping back to objectively assess the facts, and where useful, undertake trend analysis of data for target populations, provides us with a powerful tool to advise employers in order that their decision-making can become more evidence based and grounded in the facts. 

How might this positively impact employee health and wellbeing?

A practical example of this would be in providing advice for shift workers. We understand that rotating shift patterns can have adverse impacts on employees. We can use this information with data provided on a night worker questionnaire to advise at employee level and organisational level on interventions which might improve health. How much more tailored would the advice be if we add data on cognitive performance over the working shift pattern, heart rate monitoring and sleep patterns? This would allow us to provide bespoke advice to the employee on measures to optimise their health whilst working shifts.

How does data support proactive risk management?

As occupational health practitioners, we want to be able to identify potential hazards and advise organisations on potential mitigation of occupational risks before they escalate into significant health issues. In the example above, an analysis of trends on cognitive performance and sleep would help identify for the employer if there are elements of the shift pattern which may present potential health and safety risk in order that they can manage this more effectively or, provide reassurance that no change to shift design is required from a health perspective.

How can real-time data and monitoring identify any warning signs?

Much of the data used by occupational health practitioners has been a measurement of a particular point in time. Assessments and medicals were done periodically which, while helpful, also carried the risk that any subsequent changes wouldn’t be detected until the next assessment. With real-time data and analytics currently being developed in the health and safety field to support employers meeting their health and safety responsibilities to reduce risk, we now have an incredible opportunity to apply this also to workplace health. The use of wearable devices, sensors and monitoring equipment can all contribute to providing data to optimise health as well as manage risk better.

By integrating health data with data on workplace injuries, illnesses, and near-miss incidents, organisations can identify high-risk areas or job roles that present potential risk to health and implement targeted interventions to where they are most needed.

What are the potential risks?

As with all new advances in the technological world, real-time monitoring does present potential risk in how data is used. There is nervousness as a result which needs to be addressed. In particular addressing ethical and governance issues transparently and putting in place measures to ensure that data is used appropriately in accordance with data protection law will be key to successful transformation in the health, safety and wellbeing world.

What is needed to support clinicians harness data to their advantage?

In most occupational health practice, we often have data in multiple places, in different formats (electronic and paper) and with key data points in scanned or pdf files which make any aggregated analysis challenging.  The development of technology, particularly in Artificial Intelligence holds great potential in data-driven delivery of healthcare, but the current software platforms available to the occupational health sector do not have this capability.

Our new Information System for Health and Work, ISHAW, and its occupational health application, MediWork will be a game changer.  The unique combination of human clinical expertise and leading-edge technology will radically transform occupational health delivery with the aim of doing so much more with less investment.  The first phased of development is complete for launch on 01 September 2023 including modules for post-offer screening including healthcare worker/student screening, health surveillance, and case management. An exciting road map of development of tools is planned over the next decade with the aim of optimising health and wellbeing at work. 

Conclusion

Transformational change of occupational health, safety and wellbeing services are at a place is incredibly exciting, with the potential for significant benefit to both employees and organisations. By having robust, ethical and reliable systems to support data driven decisions, organisations can be supported in identifying and mitigating risks. However, data can only bring benefits if both occupational health practitioners and employers are able to access what they need.  Data systems designed to empower rather than hinder are an absolute requirement to support this transformation and play its part in creating healthier employees and more productive organisations as a result.

About ISHAW and MediWork

MediWork is a secure, cloud-based comprehensive occupational healthcare management application for delivery of occupational health services. It is part of the ISHAW suite of tools that aim to transform work health for the future. It is designed for efficiency whilst capturing key data. The aim is to build a robust database of information to provide trend analysis and data analytics with a key focus on outcome data which will help inform occupational health practice. The system will empower clinicians with data to support their service delivery whilst minimising the administrative burden of day to day clinical practice.

Find out more about ISHAW and MediWork

If you would like further information, please contact us at MWenquiry@cordellhealth.co.uk.

Nikki Cordell | Linkedin

Dr Nikki Cordell is co-founder and CEO of Cordell Health. An experienced specialist occupational physician, she passionately believes in improving the health of workers, pursuing excellence and bringing innovation to the way that health and wellbeing is delivered in the workplace. 

 

OH Today Spring 2023
Read original article here

Share

Skip to content