Newsroom

Our Stories

Helping patients advocate for healthier workplaces

Toronto, July 2, 2013

By Emily Holton

The workplace prescription is a personalized form that patients can give their employers, clearly describing what’s needed to help patients recover and stay healthy at work.
The workplace prescription is a personalized form that patients can give their employers, clearly describing what’s needed to help patients recover and stay healthy at work.

The St. Michael’s Occupational Health Clinic is offering a new kind of prescription – one that patients can give to their bosses.

When someone gets sick as a result of an exposure to something at work, two issues need to be addressed: providing the most appropriate treatment for the illness and preventing further exposure. The treatment can be dealt with by the patient and care team alone. But the prevention is a more complex process – the employer often needs to be involved.

“Our patients want to keep working,” said Irena Kudla, an occupational disease prevention specialist. “But we noticed that they weren’t always comfortable asking their employers for the special equipment or changes to their work environment that they needed to protect themselves. So we worked with patients and employers to develop an official ‘prescription’ form, signed by a physician, that workers could give to their employers.”

For example, hand-arm vibration syndrome is a debilitating nerve and musculoskeletal disease that is associated with long-term use of vibrating tools, like jackhammers. Special gloves exist that can absorb the vibration and prevent the syndrome, but it’s up to the employer to make sure these gloves are available and allowed to be used at work. The workplace prescription specifies the type of gloves needed, how to use them effectively and even suggests the right brands to use.

Occupational dermatitis, common among health care and other workers who wash their hands frequently, can also be prevented with non-latex gloves and special moisturizers. The clinic has developed a prescription to address skin problems as well.

“We’ve had very positive feedback from the patients and employers,” said Dr. Linn Holness, occupational medicine specialist and director of St. Michael’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health. “It’s a simple solution, but can make a big difference in addressing a major barrier to preventing these diseases – the lack of communication between the provider and the workplace.”

About St. Michael’s Hospital

St Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.