Helping doctors prevent occupational illness

(Edmonton) Family physicians across Alberta will soon have the option to go back to school to learn about identifying and treating occupational injuries and diseases.

Nicola Cherry and colleagues in the Department of Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry are preparing to launch a new online class for community-based physicians. It will teach them how to recognize problems as being occupational, what is the best way to handle the injury or disease, and when it’s appropriate to go back to work.

“Early on we did a needs assessment and about 93 per cent said they needed more information in the area and would like to be trained,” said Cherry of physicians in Alberta who were polled at a seminar. “If you don’t recognize that work might be causing the illness, you can’t give [patients] good advice on how to manage the illness.”

Cherry says there are about 100,000 Workers’ Compensation Board claims each year in Alberta. Studies show that physicians don’t always recognize that a disease or injury has occurred or been aggravated because of something that has happened at work, and do not always consider clearly the implications for return to work from any illness, work-related or not. She’s hoping the program can help remedy that, enabling physicians to better treat patients and manage their return to work.

The Imperial Oil Foundation recently stepped up to give $450,000 to Cherry’s group, in the Division of Preventive Medicine, for the class.

“Keeping our people safe is our number one priority at Imperial Oil,” said Susan Swan, president of the foundation. “The prevention of work-related illnesses for our employees and contractors is key to our health and safety programs. It is why we are proud to support this new training initiative, which will increase awareness of occupational health issues and contribute to improved safety in workplaces all across Canada.”

“A lot of workers are being seen in small towns where there aren’t many occupational physicians, if any, so workers will be seen by family doctors and those family doctors are really not able to do the job well enough because they haven’t had the training they need,” said Cherry.

The class is set to launch September 4, 2012. Physicians interested in the course are asked to contact Ruby Grewal at RubyGrewal@med.ualberta.ca.