Maintaining and improving health and wellbeing in the workplace is enormously important for both employers and employees alike. From a business perspective, employees are a key asset; without a healthy and engaged workforce, organisations will struggle to achieve productivity and profitability.
Employees can spend extended periods of time in the workplace. It is therefore extremely important that the working environment is, ideally, free from preventable risks to work-related health. It is the responsibility of the occupational health team to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of employees in the workplace.
We have moved on from the days when occupational health was possibly seen as a disciplinary stick with which to beat people. Nowadays, a more collaborative approach to wellbeing in the workplace is both essential and more productive.
An occupational health team is multidisciplinary, comprising physicians, nurses, physiotherapists, counsellors amongst other professions. I’m a physiotherapist and know that physiotherapy has a role to play in promoting health and wellbeing in the workplace. As a musculoskeletal clinical specialist, I have worked in occupational health for more than 15 years, primarily dealing with musculoskeletal disorders – injuries or problems that affect the musculoskeletal system, including muscles, joints, nerves, ligaments and tendons.
By far the most common problems I encounter are back and neck pain, but musculoskeletal disorders also includes sports injuries. Musculoskeletal disorders are extremely significant and their prevalence cannot be understated. According to the UK government, 40 per cent of all UK sickness absence is due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders – that's 9.5 million working days per year.
We know that 60 per cent of people on long-term sick leave cite musculoskeletal disorders as the cause of their absence. We also know that the longer people are off sick, the less likely they are to make a successful return to work. There is an 80 per cent chance that, if absent for six months, an individual will be out of work for five years.
This is a worrying statistic with a growing body of evidence supporting the premise that work is extremely good for the health and wellbeing of the individual and there are potential adverse health consequences to sickness and unemployment. With this in mind, there is an obvious need and an obvious business case for early intervention in musculoskeletal disorders.
Unfortunately, there can be lengthy waiting times to access physiotherapy. This is not good for the individual, not good for their employer, nor in fact is it good for the physiotherapist themselves. I have worked in clinical environments with long waiting lists and it can be very challenging. Problems that could be managed very well very quickly have not been addressed, as the patient did not have access to physiotherapy. With long waiting times, we not only have to address the problem but also the response to the problem. Poorly managed acute problems can become longer term persistent problems.
With the unprecedented strain on clinical resources, we must develop innovative ways of delivering clinical services including physiotherapy. The challenge is to ensure that these services are not only cost effective but clinically effective and safe.
This is why we’ve developed our secure online platform JimJam, we provide access to consultations with musculoskeletal clinical specialist physiotherapists via video call. The consultation is completed over a Skype-like platform and we provide ongoing support and specific rehabilitation with the use of HD videos to illustrate specific rehabilitation principles. We work with companies who want to ensure that their staff have rapid access to physiotherapy when it is required. All the patient needs is a device with a webcam and a data connection, Clinical notes are stored securely and the patient has access to the entire consultation as it is recorded and saved for their benefit.
This ‘hands off’ approach to physiotherapy is both clinically effective and cost effective. Our understanding of best practice when managing musculoskeletal disorders has developed in recent years.
There is a misconception around physiotherapy (not helped by the word therapy at the end!) that it is all about what we do to you. Massage, manual therapy and electrotherapy have been historically seen as our ‘core’ skills.
In practice, when working clinically I consider my ‘core’ professional skills to be my communication skills, clinical knowledge base and clinical reasoning skills.
This change in practice is driven by the current evidence base around passive therapies and electrotherapy. The evidence is very clear – to get better and stay better, the patient must take an active role in their rehabilitation.
This type of remote consultation fosters excellent clinical outcomes with the focus very much on communication, diagnosis, education and active rehabilitation. This is the future of healthcare in the UK, convenient and cost effective and ideal in promoting health and wellbeing in the workplace.