The health and wellbeing of all healthcare workers (HCWs) are integral to the operation of hospitals and clinics. However, work injury and illness among healthcare workers are among the highest in any industry sector.1 Recently, risks have come from COVID-related infections, burnout, and workplace violence.2 But sharps injuries, chemical and drug exposures, back injuries, and other stressors are still critical factors in employee health and retention.1
Tracking HCW health and safety risks can help avoid workforce shortages and improve worker productivity.3 For Employee Health (EH) departments seeking to perform Health Risk Assessments (HRAs) across a large organization, it may be necessary to standardize parts of these assessments.
Below, we’ll look at what EH organizations can do to ensure standardized HRAs benefit for everyone, including:
- Investigating past successes and failures.
- Getting buy-in from the right people.
- Brainstorming across the organization.
- Ensuring everyone is represented in assessment reporting.
- Taking advantage of EH software to enhance data collection.
Investigate Past HRAs
Organizations that have used Health Risk Assessments in the past are best served by taking a historical look at what made each one a success or failure. Larger questions include:
- Did anything improve (healthcare payouts, worker’s comp costs, etc.) after performing HRAs in the past? If not, why?
- How has the organization used HRA data? Can it be used to make more targeted policy choices?
- How many different types of HRA templates does the organization have?
Then ask more granular questions, such as:
- What were the completion rates for different departments?
- What might be preventing employees or managers from doing this work?
- Are all of the questions on the HRA justified? Will they lead to scientifically valid datasets?
The next step is taking the answers to a brainstorming meeting with peers, keeping in mind what’s already been tried.
Get Buy-In from the Right People
Standardizing a process that affects everyone requires broad buy-in and input.4 Offer something in return. At the very least, it needs to be clear what completing HRAs will accomplish.5 The “payout” may be cutting unnecessary expenses, providing departments with the means to improve efficiency, minimizing OSHA recordables, or offering employees more relevant health services.
Acknowledge that safety managers across an organization are dealing with more tasks than ever, so buy-in will be challenging.6 Ensure HRA questions cannot be answered by looking at the facility’s OSHA reports. And if past HRAs led to no meaningful change within an organization, it’s best to acknowledge past shortcomings.
Brainstorm Across the Organization
Use the unique expertise of department managers to help brainstorm all of the most relevant questions for an HRA.7 But note that this approach may create far more survey data than necessary. Concerns can be grouped and pared down into more general inquiries. Brainstorming can also help guide possible answer options for multiple-choice questions.
There is such a thing as “too many cooks in the kitchen” when it comes to multidisciplinary brainstorming, so it’s crucial to maintain control of brainstorming sessions by focusing group energy on designing the best possible questions and asking managers to use their expertise to accomplish specific goals or illuminate potential challenges.
Ensure All Employees are Represented in Assessments
Standardization can be controversial if departments or facilities have vastly different needs or employee populations.
Some managers will be rightly concerned that standardization could mask their people’s needs. Research has shown that specific groups (women, middle-aged, those with lower healthcare costs, workers who maintain steady employment, and those with better health behaviors and biometric scores). The data from these HRAs could easily underestimate health risks and suggest interventions that are irrelevant to the workers who need them most.3
It’s also crucial to pay attention to the user experience (including making questions available in native languages, if possible) when designing HRAs. Health literacy is a factor in getting good data, so it’s best to ask straightforward questions of a diverse employee population.
Standardizing Your Health Risk Assessment with the Right Software
If an organization is large enough to want to standardize HRAs, chances are it requires software to help disseminate, record, and process information. It’s also integral to have software that can help pull data from past HRAs, OSHA reports, and other incident reports to help populate the risk assessment survey.
A good software suite will also offer data security and an intuitive dashboard that help you run reports on your data sets. It can also aid in the predictive modeling of future healthcare risks for preventative action.
Health Risk Assessments are not one-size-fits-all solutions but rather a way to understand the more extensive, systemic issues facilities grapple with while allocating financial and human resources to risk mitigation. The information they provide helps EH departments and other safety personnel gather the data they need to identify, prioritize, and address healthcare worker safety proactively. Large organizations that perform HRAs quarterly gain an advantage by standardizing these assessments. But this requires casting a broad net to ensure HRAs are addressing the needs of everyone.
3 Best Practices for Employee Health Nurses
2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Hospital and Outpatient Clinician Workforce,” May 3, 2022.
3 International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, “Completing a Worksite Health Risk Assessment Correlates With Continuing Employment, Lower Health Care Costs,s and Utilization,” 2022.
4 Wolters Kluwer, “The SMART Approach to Infection Control Risk Assessment,” March 30, 2022.
5 EHS Today, “Compliance Failures Due to Employee Burdens,” September 15, 2021.
6 EHS Today, “When it Comes to Safety, Quitting is not an Option,” October 25, 2022.
7 International Journal for Quality in Health Care, “A Framework to Support Risk Assessment in Hospitals,” 2019.