Make the most of your occ health software

On-line training, updates keep you current

Suppose you want to know how many employees have gone 11 months or more since their last tuberculosis screening test. Can your software spit out that list? Can you send it in an encrypted, confidential format to managers?

Or suppose the mumps outbreak has forced you to review the vaccination status of your employees. How easily can you retrieve a list of employees who have only had one dose of vaccine?

Occupational health software is designed to make your job easier. But many employee health professionals use only a fraction of the capability of their software. You can get more out of your existing software — or you may need to switch to software that will better suit your needs — says Joe Fanucchi, MD, FACOEM, an occupational medicine physician who created MediTrax, where he now is president and medical director of the Alamo, CA-based company.

"You want the software to support your workflow and increase your productivity and efficiency," says Fanucchi, who was scheduled to speak at the October conference of the Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare in Sacramento, CA.

Ironically, it's hard to find the time to learn how to use a tool that will help with time management.

"As a general rule, if they want to enhance the use of the system that they have, they should get more training," says William Newkirk, MD, FACPM, medical director of occupational medicine at Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan, ME, and founder and director of research for Occupational Health Research, which produces Systoc and StolaSystem software.

"Almost all the systems have more features than they're using," he says. "It's almost always a training issue."

Your vendor should provide training, but it doesn't have to come in hands-on, time-consuming sessions. On-line training has become popular because it is time-efficient, Newkirk says. For example, the vendor may offer live, on-line classes at noon. The company also may offer training support by phone and a mechanism to communicate with other users.

You also may need to periodically assess your current use of the software and your unmet needs or future needs. Newkirk and Fanucchi offer this advice for busy employee health professionals who need to get more out of their occupational health software:

  • Find out about the capabilities of your current software.

"Get an overview of what the software will do in its entirety and begin integrating it bit by bit," advises Newkirk.

Perhaps you've always used your occ health software to track TB skin tests. Can you also set up reminders for respirator fit-tests? Can you easily calculate your needlestick rates and compare them to a benchmark, such as data from EPINet at the International Health Care Worker Safety Center at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville?

"You constantly have to be thinking, 'What sort of data am I keeping, what form is it in, and how am I going to retrieve it and analyze it?'" says Newkirk.

  • Keep your software updated.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration changes its rules, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issues new guidelines, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations devises new standards. Your software should be able to keep up.

"Occupational medicine software always has to bend to go to places no one ever envisioned it would go," says Newkirk.

Some vendors will provide updates automatically. The vendor also may provide software news on its web site or by e-mail. It's important to know how and when you receive updates, and what those updates cover.

For example, when OSHA issued new recordkeeping rules on hearing loss, software companies quickly created new templates for reporting and tracking that information.

  • Ask your vendor to customize your software as needed.

While your software has been designed to provide the basic tracking and analysis of injuries and immunizations, you may need something new. For example, you may need a method of tracking consent forms and declination statements for influenza vaccination. Your annual support agreement may include a provision for creating customized databases or reports.

"If it's something that everybody could use, we just go ahead and implement it and we don't charge," says Fanucchi.

Your software should include an interface with the hospital's human resources software. For example, you should be able to retrieve demographic information for analysis (Are your needlesticks occurring among new or long-time employees?), as well as employee information (job transfers, new employees, address changes, etc). You or your support staff should not have to key in the employee information.

  • Build in privacy protections.

Just putting a password on your computer doesn't mean it is protected, says Fanucchi. Too often, the passwords are predictable (such as your child or your dog's name), he says. Or they are ubiquitous (such as admin or occmed).

"It's disheartening the number of times I have gone into places and they say, 'We all use the same password,'" he says.

Change your passwords often, and make sure e-mails that contain sensitive information are encrypted, Fanucchi advises.

Occupational health software vendors

Here are some vendors of occupational health software. This list is not comprehensive; other software vendors may provide products suitable for employee health departments.