Focus on outcomes: piloting the collection of outcome data for Occupational Health
August 9, 2022 • Reading time 2 minutes
Occupational health (OH) teams keep people well at work – physically and mentally.
Research shows that good health is good for business and better workplaces have better financial results. With over 130 million days lost to sickness absence every year, at an estimated cost to the economy of £100 billion, there is huge opportunity for improving wellbeing at work. Research shows that the longer people are off sick, the less likely they are to make a successful return to work: after six months of absence from work, there is only a 50% chance of making a successful return. Despite this, a minority of the workforce has access to OH services.
During a feasibility study that we conducted in early 2021, exploring the opportunity for using outcome metrics in the OH industry, we found a need and appetite for improved outcome data collection. OH providers felt that meaningful outcome data would enable them to drive service improvement, as well as demonstrate the impact of their services to employers more effectively (see our case study on this work). Through this study we recommended a phased approach to achieving widespread outcome data collection in the industry, beginning with a pilot study to design a methodology and test the concept of collecting outcome data with a small number of OH providers.
Recognising the importance of improving access to OH, and the role that outcome data could play, the Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health and Social Care commissioned a collaboration between Edge Health and the Getting It Right First Time Projects Directorate @RNOH to conduct this pilot study, and explore the impact that outcome data could have on the industry.
We worked closely with a group of OH providers and subject matter experts to first develop a data collection methodology, consisting of follow-up surveys for employees, their managers, and OH providers around 8 weeks post-consultation. We then worked with providers to implement this methodology, collecting data from a small number of their clients and gathering insight and learnings throughout the process.
Several key conclusions arose from this work, which we used to feed into recommendations for next steps. Capacity pressures were a common issue across providers, without dedicated resource to collect the outcome data, highlighting the importance of a digital solution in future work to reduce burden on providers and enable scaling of the data collection methodology. The value of widespread data collection in the OH industry was also explored: in particular, a wider roll-out of this approach could provide an aggregated national dataset that would enable deeper understanding of the impacts of OH services. Scaling of outcome data collection across the industry could ultimately drive quality improvement and promote uptake of OH services by employers, supporting employees to stay well at work.