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ACOEM: Include Worker Health Information in Electronic Health Records

Jan. 16, 2013
Your health can affect your work performance, and your work may impact your health. That’s part of the message ACOEM is sending the federal government in its request to include worker health information as a component of electronic health records (EHRs).

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) has some advice for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: ensure that worker health information is considered as part of electronic health records (EHRs). This can be accomplished, ACOEM said, by incentivizing physicians to add information about a patient’s work life as they build EHRs.

“Approximately 140 million Americans are employed. Their health can affect their ability to work safely and productively, and in turn their jobs can affect their health,” said ACOEM President Karl Auerbach, M.D.

“Although many vendors have developed specialized EHR systems for occupational medicine, EHRs for general group health have not typically included features related to a patient’s work life, such as data fields to code a patient’s occupational risks or work capacity – despite clear evidence that such data can be critically important for quality care in almost any field of medical practice,” he added

Among its recommendations, ACOEM calls for coding in EHRs of a patient’s occupation and industry, as well as the inclusion of information regarding a patient’s “functional status” – health factors that impact the ability to work.

“We believe that work status, as recorded in an occupation and industry code, is important for essentially all medical specialties involved in the care of adult patients,” Auerbach said. “This is the first step in bringing attention to the importance of our medical system taking a more active role in the prevention, management, and assessment of disability.”

ACOEM also provided recommendations for features that would help physicians more readily make the transition to worker-health-related EHRs. These include the need for a robust physician-patient messaging capability; standardized “minimum data sets” to allow efficient information transfer; and strong firewalls to ensure compliance with the confidentiality requirements imposed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information and Non-Disclosure Act (GINA).

“Incorporating basic occupational demographic information into all EHRs could make important contributions to public health practice and research,” Auerbach said. “Ignoring this fundamental determinant of health puts at risk several important societal priorities: achieving the triple aim of improving the experience of care, improving the health of populations, and reducing per capita costs of health care; reducing health disparities; improving population health; and providing the nation a productive work force.”

Read ACOEM’s recommendations in full.

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