Do workers’ health surveillance examinations fulfill their occupational preventive objective? Analysis of the medical practice of occupational physicians in Catalonia, Spain
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University of Girona, Catalonia, Spain (School of Medicine, Department of Medical Sciences)
Integrated Baix Empordà Health Services, Palamós, Girona, Spain (Occupational Health Service)
Ministry of Enterprise and Labour, Government of Catalonia, Spain (Occupational Health and Safety Institute)
University of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain (School of Medicine, Department of Public Health)
University of Girona, Catalonia, Spain (School of Medicine, Department of Medical Sciences, TransLab Research Group)
Open University of Catalonia, Catalonia, Spain (Health Sciences Studies)
Online publication date: 2017-09-11
Corresponding author
Mari Cruz Rodríguez-Jareño   

University of Girona, School of Medicine, Department of Medical Sciences, Emili Grahit 77, 17071 Girona, Spain
Int J Occup Med Environ Health. 2017;30(6):823-48
Objectives: Although routine workers’ health examinations are extensively performed worldwide with important resource allocation, few studies have analyzed their quality. The objective of this study has been to analyze the medical practice of workers’ health examinations in Catalonia (Spain) in terms of its occupational preventive aim. Material and Methods: A cross-sectional study was carried out by means of an online survey addressed to occupational physicians who were members of the Catalan Society of Safety and Occupational Medicine. The questionnaire included factual questions on how they performed health examinations in their usual practice. The bivariate analysis of the answers was performed by type of occupational health service (external/internal). Results: The response rate was 57.9% (N = 168), representing 40.3% of the reference population. A high percentage of occupational physicians had important limitations in their current medical practice, including availability of clinical and exposure information, job-specificity of tests, and early detection and appropriate management of suspected occupational diseases. The situation in external occupational health services – that covered the great majority of Catalan employees – was worse remarkably in regard to knowledge of occupational and nonoccupational sickness absence data, participation in the investigation of occupational injuries and diseases, and accessibility for workers to the occupational health service. Conclusions: This study raises serious concerns about the occupational preventive usefulness of these health examinations, and subsequently about our health surveillance system, based primarily on them. Professionals alongside health and safety institutions and stakeholders should promote the rationalization of this system, following the technical criteria of need, relevance, scientific validity and effectiveness, whilst ensuring that its ultimate goal of improving the health and safety of workers in relation to work is fulfilled. Other countries with similar surveillance systems might be encouraged by our results to assess how their practices fit the intended purpose. Int J Occup Med Environ Health 2017;30(6):823–848
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