Occupational medicine specialist referral triggers: Mixed-methods analysis of teleconsult cases

Jennifer L. Eaton, A. Mohammad, D. C. Mohr, D. J. Brustein, Steven R Kirkhorn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Qualitative analyses can yield critical lessons for learning organizations in healthcare. Few studies have applied these techniques in the field of occupational and environmental medicine (OEM). Aims: To describe the characteristics of complex cases referred for OEM subspecialty evaluation and variation by referring provider's training. Methods: Using a mixed methods approach, we conducted a content analysis of clinical cases submitted to a national OEM teleconsult service. Consecutive cases entered between April 2014 and July 2015 were screened, coded and analysed. Results: 108 cases were available for analysis. Local Veterans Health Administration (VHA) non-specialist providers entered a primary medical diagnosis in 96% of cases at the time of intake. OEM speciality physicians coded significant medical conditions based on free text comments. Coder inter-rater reliability was 84%. The most frequent medical diagnosis types associated with tertiary OEM referral by non-specialists were endocrine (19%), cardiovascular (18%) and mental health (16%). Concern for usage of controlled and/or sedating medications was cited in 1% of cases. Compared to referring non-specialists, OEM physicians were more likely to attribute case complexity to musculoskeletal (OR: 2.3, 1.68-3.14) or neurological (OR: 1.69, 1.28-2.24) conditions. Medication usage (OR: 2.2, 1.49-2.26) was more likely to be a source of clinical concern among referring providers. Conclusions: The findings highlight the range of triggers for OEM physician subspecialty referral in clinical practice with employee patients. The results of this study can be used to inform development of provider education, standardized clinical practice pathways, and quality review activities for occupational medicine practitioners.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberkqx158
Pages (from-to)718-721
Number of pages4
JournalOccupational Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by operational funds in the Veterans Health Administration.


  • Occupational disease
  • Occupational medicine specialization
  • Qualitative research
  • Tele-medicine

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