Been a busy time since the last newsletter. I attended the WorkerCover Medical Advisory Panel meeting on Monday then off to Sydney and Canberra to learn and teach, so only a brief newsletter today – a rant about my own views about the value of occupational medicine.
What I have observed in my own work and and through discussions with a range of practitioners I have contacted over the last few days in Hobart, Sydney and Canberra is the need for greater strategic input from occupational physicians into prevention and effective management of work-related injury and disease. From private occupational medicine practice, in particular, there are fewer opportunities than in the past to contribute our expertise to prevention activities especially input into management systems under the control of government, regulators and employers.
There is a need for occupational medicine practitioners to promote more effectively what they do and the overall contribution they can make to management of workplace health & safety (WHS). Occupational Medicine practitioners can add value in many facets of WHS through input in management systems, conducting research and managing complex cases of injury, not just the role that seems most widely accepted by other parties i.e. the role of an IME assessor.
My impression is that we are ahead in some ways in Tasmania, as compared to Canberra, in that there seems to a greater recognition by treating medical practitioners of the important role played by occupational physicians, as evidence by willingness to refer.
Canberra, on the other hand, has a greater number of occupational physicians within organisations providing strategic direction and advice. Perhaps that is a function of Canberra as the seat of government. There is however no occupational physician employed by SafeWork Australia, arguably the most important strategic body for WHS in Australia.
My talk to occupational physicians and lawyers in Canberra about upper limb pain in computer operators (AKA “RSI”) highlighted the need our speciality to have a greater role in research, which seems to be lacking, in relation to better diagnostic methods and understanding of causative factors. I don’t believe rheumatologists should be the “go to” speciality for specialist advice, which is the current reality.
Occupational Medicine needs to re-invent itself as the respected specialty in all-things related to workplace health, through appropriate clinical and research activities and by earning respect of our medical colleagues in combination with an understanding of the value of our input from other WHS stakeholders. In many cases occupational physicians should be leading, not following these activities.
Next weeks’ newsletter will return to the usual format!