How to make the most of rural resources

Networking, advice on tap at ICOH conference

What do you do if . . . you're the only employee health professional for a work force of several thousand employees? Or there is no occupational health physician for you to work with? Or you're trained in infection control but expected to know about occupational medicine?

Those are some of the issues that will be addressed as the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) Conference on Health Care Worker Health devotes an all-day, pre-conference workshop to "Occupational Health Services for Rural and Remote Areas and Developing Countries." The ICOH conference will be held Oct. 26-28 in Vancouver.

The ICOH conference is held every three years, and this year it will be combined with the annual State-of-the-Art Conference of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM). It will include an all-day workshop on outbreak investigations, with lessons learned from SARS, Legionella, and other outbreaks. Sessions will cover psychosocial issues, ergonomics, and current issues in health care worker health.

The conference offers occupational health physicians and other professionals an opportunity to network and share information with their international counterparts, says Bob Orford, MD, CM, MS, MPH, FACOEM, Organizing Committee chair and National Secretary of ICOH for the USA.

"We've had nurses and industrial hygienists involved in the planning of the meeting. The meeting is not simply a physician-oriented meeting. It's going to be of broad interest to all occupational health professionals," says Orford, who is a consultant with the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ, and president-elect of ACOEM.

The workshop on occupational health in rural and remote areas is an ICOH effort to reach out to occupational health professionals who work with lean resources, both in the United States and around the world, says speaker Annalee Yassi, MD, DOHS, MSc, FRCP, who heads the division of occupational medicine at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

While some rural or remote hospitals may have fewer resources, they still face the same hazards and infectious disease threats, she says. For example, it may be difficult for a hospital to set aside funds to stockpile N95 respirators, but the need for pandemic influenza planning is just as great as for other hospitals, Yassi says. "There is no disease that would not be expected in a rural or remote area," she adds. "The conference will deal with creative solutions to problems that are particularly faced with being in a rural or remote area."

[Editor's note: The International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) Conference on Health Care Worker Health will be held concurrently with the 2007 State of the Art Conference of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) in Vancouver, BC, Canada, from Oct. 26-28. More information is available at www.acoem.org/icoh.aspx.]