Introduction to Occupational and Environmental Medicine (OEM)

April 20th, 2016 by Julie Ferguson

In workers comp, we often speak about occupational physicians or “occ docs” but what exactly does that mean and how does an occupational physician differ from other physicians? Occupational and environmental medicine (OEM) is a board-certified specialty within the profession of preventive medicine that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of work-related injuries and illnesses.  Occupational physicians also serve as champions for the health/safety of workers and their environments.

At its recent annual conference, The American College Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) released a video Introduction To Occupational and Environmental Medicine written and produced by Dr. Jon O’Neal, MD, MPH, FACOEM and Residency Director of HealthPartners and University of Minnesota OEM Program St. Paul, Minnesota.

The video offers a good overview and history of history of the discipline, including its early roots when
Hippocrates and Pliny wrote about occupational injuries and exposures. It also includes a brief history and overview of workers compensation and the occupational physician’s unique triangular relationship with worker and employer.  It also talks about common work exposures and routes of exposure, and the role of the occupational physician, including the prevention component of occupational medicine; treating injured workers; disability management; and various testing and monitoring roles, such as conducting preplacement exams; serving as medical review officers (MRO) in drug screening programs; conducting surveillance exams to measure ongoing effects of work exposures; monitoring fitness for safety sensitive workers such as pilots.

For more on the role of the occupational physician, see ACOEM: What is OEM?

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