Most of us spend a third of our lives at work. These 8-10 hours per day are generally good for our health, enabling us to generate income and stay active. Yet health center care teams see first-hand how work can drive negative health outcomes for patients. Work can lead to things like injury, environmental exposures, and mental health concerns.
While many health center care teams ask patients about their work lives, this data is mainly recorded as unstructured, free text. Just a note saved in different sections of the electronic health record (EHR). In this form, occupational data cannot be used to immediately identify health trends or individuals at risk.
Occupation: One of the Most Important Social Drivers of Health
Occupational Data for Health (ODH) tells us:
- About someone’s socio-economic status and income level, providing insight into an individual’s social needs and financial security
- Whether and how someone is exposed to pollutants, toxins, injury, trauma, or disease
- If someone has access to employer-provided health insurance
Similarly, unemployed status can be linked to hardship and negative health outcomes.
When community health centers code ODH to learn about their patient’s work lives, they can introduce opportunities for helpful interventions and services. The key is to formally capture this data so it can be used to address work-related risks and create personalized care plans.
By converting ODH into a structured, computable format, health centers could also conduct population health analyses and predictive modeling to identify essential workers and other high-risk groups. This data can be used to develop policies and procedures that promote safer work processes and protections. Think about how this data can broadly identify public health needs for personal protective equipment, water for outdoor workers, mental healthcare, vaccinations, and even identify resources for job training with unemployment.
Collecting Occupational Data in the Health Center’s Electronic Health Record
Formally collecting job/employment status, industry (type of business), and occupation—and coding this information in the EHR is gaining attention as an important data set for health care. Capturing ODH within community health center intake processes or workflows would significantly improve care planning.
The new ODH framework, formally developed by the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), is now considered a best practice. The United States Core Data for Interoperability (USCDI) version 3 and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has established a proposed rule to require ODH in Certification Program Updates, Algorithm Transparency, and Information Sharing (HTI-1). This requirement, influenced by NACHC, means EHR systems used by health centers will now be required to capture and represent occupational data. This will serve as the standard across vendors and platforms.
Integrating ODH seamlessly into the EHR unlocks invaluable insights into the relationship between occupation, industry, environmental factors, and health outcomes, which empowers healthcare providers and organizations to offer more effective care strategies and policies for patients and communities.
How Can Your Health Center Start to Collect & Use ODH?
NACHC has been developing a series of resources to help health centers collect and use ODH with a very low impact on care team members. To learn more, listen to this recent LinkedIn Live recording (25 min) and download some of these helpful resources:
View more of NACHC’s resources about Social Drivers of Health.