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48 Seconds for Occupational Health Surveillance

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Three million Americans succumb to workplace injuries and illness annually costing society $250 billion, yet there is no national tracking system for occupational disease and injury in the US. A new study makes the case for adopting I/O standards in healthcare: “Time Well Spent: Patient Industry and Occupation Data Collection in Emergency Departments” published in the Journal of Occupation and Environmental Medicine.  In an effort supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency Assistance to Firefighter Grant Program, scientists from the Center for Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends (FIRST) at the Dornsife School of Public Health (DSPH) at Drexel University assessed the time and cost of making I/O enquiries in emergency departments.

The study was conducted at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Philadelphia. Eleven observers measured the time spent by each registrar collecting industry and occupation information from patients in each emergency department. On average, it took 48 seconds to collect I/O information. The cost incurred by accounting for the average number of patients seen per year and the average registrar salary was between $520 - $623 per registrar per year. The total annual cost for the two participating hospitals to gather industry and occupation information on every patient was $4,160 and $15,000. The costs to hospitals to create a surveillance system for occupational injuries and illnesses were found to be reasonable and manageable.  No undue burden was observed in comparison with the estimated $250 billion cost of occupational illnesses and injuries.

“While we started this effort to track injuries in firefighters, we discovered that such effort would benefit every industry and all workers.  It would also not only benefit injury surveillance, but illness surveillance as well.  And here’s the good news:  48 seconds and less than 0.0002% of a hospital’s operating revenue is all it takes to make healthcare data useful for worker health and safety.” ~Dr. Jennifer A. Taylor

This research was led by FIRST Director Dr. Jennifer Taylor and Shannon Widman, MPH (’10) of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in collaboration with Erica Harris, MD, MPH (’15) of the Drexel University College of Medicine, and Judith Green-McKenzie, MD, MPH of the Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. Recent DSPH graduates Samantha James, MPH (’16) and Cydney McGuire, MPH (’16) directed participant recruitment and data analysis. Registrar observations were conducted by recent DSPH 2016 MPH graduates Zach Daniels, Andrew Fox, Camille Lukey, Regan Murray, Funmi Osayameh, and Donnell Smiley. Additional project support was provided by FIRST Center staff Andrea Davis (’12) and Lauren Shepler (’15).

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