Health systems are using digital health tools and electronic health records to not only monitor staff health and track compliance, but to give employees a way to manage their well-being and connect with supervisors .
Healthcare organizations accustomed to using digital health for clinical care are finding value in these occupational health services. Some are using technology platforms to help staff track their health and well-being and keep up with testing and vaccination protocols.
Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, based in Winston-Salem, NC, is driving its occupational health program through a custom-built eHealth platform developed through a partnership with Enterprise Health. The platform gives administrators insight into employee compliance and engagement rates, while streamlining the communication process and allowing interactions through mobile devices and a web portal.
“This was something that was definitely manual before,” says Samantha Lodish, the health system’s chief administrative officer. “We are now able to manage the health care of all our employees through the EHR. We definitely needed this and are grateful to have it.”
As healthcare organizations have experimented with new technologies and strategies to improve occupational health outcomes, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a sharp focus on the need to manage the health of their employees as carefully as their patients. Health system leaders scrambled to track the health status of clinicians and other staff as infected patients invaded hospitals, seeking ways not only to treat patients without infecting their care teams, but also to quickly identify and help staff who became ill. infected.
“It became a necessity that we as a hospital had to be able to track it [the health of] and take care of all our employees,” says Lodish, evoking images of hospitals in other parts of the country that were forced to close services because they had too many sick employees. Not only did it ensure the health system ran efficiently, it says, “it also improved mental well-being and greatly reduced stress.”
Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist began this journey in 2018, when leaders decided to change EHR platforms to include more occupational health services. Lodish says the legacy platform offered few OH services, forcing the health system to do a lot of manual and paper work.
“There was very little connection and communication,” she says.
The new platform integrated these services into an employee portal, giving administrators the ability to track and manage flu vaccine and other immunization compliance, as well as health screenings and tests. The portal also allowed administrators to pull up resources, such as the latest news on COVID-19 strains and vaccines, and get real-time feedback from staff.
According to a case study prepared by Enterprise Health, the new platform enabled the health system to achieve a 98% compliance rate in its flu program while streamlining the distribution of flu vaccine reminders and pre-vaccination consent forms. which can be completed at home and submitted through the portal or on site with an iPad.
The platform enabled administrators to not only accurately track the health and immunization status of all staff, but also generates reports on compliance and creates stronger employee health data.
Lodish says the digital health platform allowed staff to exercise more control over health data, giving administrators the data they need to manage employee health.
The biggest challenge, she says, was “selling the need for it.” Some administrators and staff didn’t realize the benefits of an EHR-based platform until they saw what it could accomplish. And the pandemic certainly illustrates this value.
“Obviously it wasn’t easy for us, but everything went well,” she says.
Expanding the Occupational Health Platform
While health systems like Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist are turning to digital health platforms for occupational health needs in the wake of the pandemic, many businesses have been using new tools and techniques for some time, often in conjunction with their health plans.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, private industry employers reported 2.8 million workplace injuries and illnesses in 2019, or 2.8 cases for every 100 workers. This amounts to approximately $1,100 in health care costs per employee, $42,000 for each employee who needs a medical consultation, or about $171 billion in annual health care costs.
To try and meet these costs, businesses are developing new programs that aim to not only improve the health and well-being of their employees, but help employees recover more quickly from injuries and illnesses. This includes virtual home visits for occupational therapy and rehabilitation. A growing number of businesses are also adding channels for behavioral health services, including substance abuse treatment.
Health plans and businesses (as well as some health systems) are also exploring the use of wearables to help employees track their health and wellness. Many explored this strategy during the pandemic through smartwatches, fitness trackers and even rings that could monitor the wearer’s temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and other signs that could indicate infection. Beyond the pandemic, those devices can help administrators identify an employee with a health concern, from a virus (like the flu), to an infection, to a behavioral health concern.
These programs are expected to grow and expand as businesses, including healthcare organizations, seek to better manage employee health and, just as importantly, well-being.
At Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, Lodish says the platform gives administrators another tool to improve employee relations.
“The main thing is to be able to take care of your employees,” she says. “And to do that, you need to be able to turn to them at any time,” either to go over resources, answer questions or help with a health concern.
“Me [an occupational health platform], you have this niche that just focuses on employees,” she adds. “That’s important. This shows them that they are valued.”
Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.