Ask a Maui Doctor: What is Occupational Medicine?

September 4, 2017, 8:45 AM HST · Updated September 4, 8:50 AM
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Maui Now Ask a Maui Doctor

Doctors at Minit Medical answer some of the questions submitted by readers.

Each week, a doctor from Minit Medical Kahului or Lahaina will answer questions that have been submitted by readers. Submit your own medical related questions to our doctors at [email protected].

Questions submitted will be considered for inclusion in the “Ask a Maui Doctor” column.

(This will be Part One in a series about occupational medicine).

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Q: What is occupational medicine and why would I go to an ‘Occ Doc?’

A: The interest in the Prevention and Management of Occupational and Environmental Injuries, Illness, Disability, and Employee Wellness has been around since the 1500s, when the first paper was published on health problems of miners.

It gained momentum and notice as Industrial Medicine in the United States in the early 1900s when a woman doctor, Alice Hamilton MD, not only developed the field of Industrial Toxicology (identifying work-related chemicals that harm people) but wrote the paper that resulted in the first State law requiring employers to provide safety procedures and medical exams for employees on a regular basis as well as report work-related illnesses.

In fact, her life’s work and unrelenting public voice contributed to the passing of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) by Congress in 1970, three months after her death at 101 years old. She was a very cool lady who cared deeply about those who built the modern powerhouse of industrial nations.

Industrial Medicine slowly morphed into Occupational Medicine. In addition to Occupational Medicine Doctors [‘Occ Docs’ in our trade], Physician Assistants, and Nurses, there are now also Industrial Hygienists, Therapists, Employer Health & Safety Officers, Nurse Case Managers, Vocational Rehab Specialists, Safety Specialists, and many more types of people who are part of a team of professionals whose focus is on the health and well-being of the employee.

Of course, since 1970 this specialty has grown in the US and around the world. Its research arm clinical care clinics, teaching programs, lobbying efforts, and individual Professionals (like Alice) have directly influenced American legislation at all levels and continue to measurably reduce employee death and disability even during our lifetime.

So, why would you go to an ‘Occ Doc?’ The answer most often depends on your employer but these below capture most of the reasons:

– Work-related injury
– Work-related illness (i.e: chemical/toxin/noise/repetitive movement/infectious exposures)
– Fitness-for-Duty exam (to make sure you are safe to come back to work after either being out from work for a specified number of weeks or months due to any type of health condition or because you have a permanent condition that may require the Employer’s Reasonable Accommodations if available)
– Post-Offer exams [previously called Pre-Employment physicals] and Exit Exams (for when you leave an Employer)
– Drug Screens and/or Breath Alcohol tests as part of an Employer’s Drug-Free Workplace Program
Specialty Exams (like those for Fire Fighters, Law Enforcement Specialties, and people who have to use Respirators on the job)
– OSHA Surveillance Exams (hearing, pulmonary function tests, bodily fluid tests, etc.) designed to comply with industry regulations and detect early signs of work-related health changes so they can be addressed sooner than later
– Travel Medicine services for Employees that must travel outside of the United States as part of their job
– Workplace health initiatives (to help prevent injuries and illnesses and make wellness an important priority even at work)

Over the next several months, a doctor at Minit Medical will discuss Occupational Medicine services and answer frequent questions he discusses with his patients and employer clients.


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