Carlos López Patán
Expert Contributor

The Role of Occupational Medicine in Population Health Management

By Carlos López | Thu, 09/08/2022 - 15:00

As economically active people, we spend around eight to 12 hours of our day working. Therefore, there is a close relationship between healthcare and the work environment. These two things can either relate positively, contributing to a better lifestyle, or negatively, causing psychological disorders like anxiety and depression or injuries resulting from accidents that affect our health. 

Therefore, occupational health, a medical specialty that assesses the health of a company’s employees, plays an essential role in national healthcare models as organizations and companies may and must have a great impact on the groups of people to which they have daily and structured access. Likewise, this impact can be used to provide close and efficient healthcare for these people.

I believe that, in the 21st century, one of the health items that we must develop to its fullest is bringing health to where people are rather than taking them to places where they can receive healthcare, particularly when we talk about preventive medicine and quality of life care. There is no better opportunity to do so than taking advantage of the fact that people spend about a third of their productive lives in the workplace as this is exactly where we can promote appropriate preventive measures and diagnose possible comorbidities in a timely manner so that they can be treated properly and early. First, this synergy helps employees to improve their health and, equally important, the company to improve its health and even boost productivity, making it a win-win scenario for both parties.

I believe that it is important to make better use of this structure of occupational medicine in our country to support the government's own healthcare models, through collaboration agreements or similar mechanisms. While the efficiency of these models increases, care expenses linked to public institutions decrease as the points of contact with the population expand. 

The International Labour Organization (ILO) states that the aim of occupational health “is the promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental, and social well-being of workers in all occupations; and thus, protect workers from health risks by keeping them in a job that suits their psychological and physiological aptitudes and preventing the occurrence of damages that may affect their well-being."

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines occupational health as a multidisciplinary activity aimed at protecting the health of workers in a public or private company. Moreover, according to WHO, occupational health aims to eliminate all working conditions that may endanger the worker’s health and safety.

According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), in 2021, 68 out of 100 physicians worked in (mostly public) institutions, 29 in companies and three in the informal sector. In that sense, we can affirm that we would benefit enormously from the health infrastructure installed in companies and organizations since this accounts for 20-25 percent of the global primary care structure. Moreover, if we consider that this infrastructure is key to complying with the 035 Labor Standard, the conditions for promoting its use could not be better.

According to the INEGI, the number of specialists currently practicing their profession in our country is lower than the internationally recommended number and insufficient to cover our healthcare needs, since they are mostly grouped in urban areas. This leads us to think that only those doctors working in urban areas, and who comply with a series of regulations, are best qualified to provide efficient occupational and medical service; however, we are still far from achieving homogenization at a national level, since according to the ILO, many people die every day as a result of occupational accidents and work-related illnesses, which amount to at least 1.9 million. This leads us to confirm that we still have a long way to go to achieve an appropriate level of prevention. Here we find one more reason to resort to occupational medicine, as companies and institutions can provide much better healthcare, at least in a preventive and early manner, in geographic areas where current healthcare models are clearly insufficient.

According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the workforce in Latin America represents about 50 percent of the entire population (460 million people). Ensuring the highest performance, capability, and productivity of each of these workers is essential and occupational medicine is our ally to enable this. 

Of course, it is also necessary to further improve occupational medicine. People who work under great pressure, stress, or in precarious conditions are at greater risk of developing negative habits. For example, they tend to smoke frequently, neglect physical activity, or eat an unhealthy diet.

According to the OMS, in most countries, occupational health problems generate losses of up to 6 percent of GDP. In addition, seven out of 10 workers do not have insurance coverage to provide compensation in the event of occupational diseases or accidents.

In addition, the  studies cited by the WHO reveal that corporate initiatives to promote occupational health reduce absenteeism due to illness by up to 27 percent and healthcare costs by up to 26 percent.

Work-related illnesses among corporate employees are also important to address in terms of prevention, as the figures are becoming more alarming every year. Non-fatal workplace accidents, on average, require a disability period of more than four days, which is estimated to represent at least 3.94 percent of global GDP.

According to the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), in 2018, 48 accidents were reported every hour in the workplace and at least one person faced a risky situation at work every minute. This leads us to consider that we must reinforce safety at work, in order to preserve the health of each associate, since no one is exempt from risks.

Occupational Health is a strategy that ensures workers' health as well as the strength of national economies through improved productivity, motivation, and product quality in addition to low absenteeism caused by injuries or illnesses and reduced insurance premiums related to injuries and illnesses, among others. At a global level, occupational safety and health have a strong potential to mitigate inequalities.

In light of the above, companies should have areas dedicated to prevention and early diagnosis to reinforce accident prevention, to recognize major and minor risks in each work area, and to implement actions that guarantee the preservation of quality of life, both for employees and for their families.

Extending health benefits to family members is also a priority as it has a positive impact on the scope of a company that goes beyond the adopted business model and offers additional well-being for those who are part of our workforce.

We must also take into consideration that Mexico has at least 43 official standards in place related to occupational health and safety, which set forth the guidelines for companies to comply with the minimum conditions necessary for risk prevention. 

Likewise, it is crucial to train and sensitize 100 percent of the workforce in accident and degenerative disease prevention, thus developing an effective health and safety culture to reduce the negative impact on people's quality of life. Taking care of us all should be a model of mandatory implementation for companies to promote a greater commitment to the health of every human being, of every organization and, ultimately, of society as a whole.




Photo by:   Carlos López Patán