The Case for Annual Respirator Medical Evaluation

Dr. Todd Hamel - Vest
Dr. Todd Hamel, Director of Occupational Health Services

How often should our employees be medically evaluated for respirator use?

This is perhaps the most common question Vest hears from customers. We sat down with Dr. Todd Hamel, Director of Occupational Health Services at Vest, to get his thoughts on this question, his role at Vest and respirator medical evaluations in general.

Tell us about your experience before joining Vest.

I’m a board certified physician and practiced Family Medicine for 13 years. The experience I gained in practicing Family Medicine proved invaluable when I made the move to Occupational Medicine and became the Corporate Medical Director for Quanta Services (a construction company in the energy sector). After Quanta Services, I moved to the Dow Chemical Company and climbed the ranks to become the North America Director of Health Services.

What is your role at Vest?

I lead a team of highly skilled occupational health providers. With Vest we have been able to leverage technology to enhance the experience for employees and employers. In my previous work, I managed large populations of direct employees in specific industries. At Vest, I interact with an extremely diverse group of workers, including employees and contractors, from all corners of industry across the country. This diverse volume of business at Vest provides the opportunity to interact with workers not only on common conditions such as Diabetes and Hypertension, but also on less common or rare conditions that may impact worker safety.

In your experience, how common is it for employers to provide the medical evaluation for respirator use annually?

In my previous experience at large multinational corporations, the standard of care was always to provide annual respirator medical evaluation. In the course of my work here at Vest, it’s been great to see that most of the companies we service are following a best practice by performing the medical evaluation annually.  

Why is providing the respirator medical evaluation annually a best practice for employers?

For many companies, and especially smaller entities, the respirator medical evaluation is the only workplace medical touchpoint. Staying in tune with employee health can help to reduce absenteeism and increase presenteeism – two important components of worker productivity.

Furthermore, without annual respirator medical evaluation, employers must rely solely on employees to self-report significant changes in health. Self-reporting medical problems can be challenging since many changes in health can be uncomfortable to discuss, such as significant weight gain. Annual respirator medical evaluation provides an important mechanism for reporting interval health changes that may have gone unreported or undetected.

Does providing the respirator medical evaluation annually benefit the employee?

Many American workers do not see a doctor regularly, so annual respirator medical evaluation ensures employees have a chance to interact with a healthcare provider at least once per year. And since most employers are not healthcare providers, annual respirator clearance eliminates the burden of interacting with employees about their personal health.

How has the advent of online respirator clearance affected the ability to attain it annually? 

Online respirator clearance has eliminated many of the barriers to providing this vital health touchpoint such as high costs and employee time away from work. By eliminating these barriers and providing an efficient process, online respirator clearance has become an industry standard for companies of all sizes.

Are there circumstances where you wouldn’t suggest annual respirator medical evaluation?

No, I would never recommend an interval of more than one year between respirator medical evaluations, but there may be circumstances where respirator clearance should be attained more frequently. Health is a constantly changing state, and this is why OSHA requires respirator clearance based upon changes to health and job description rather than the passage of time.

What should employers look for when selecting an online respirator medical evaluation provider?

There are a number of software capabilities and system features that you should be looking for but from my point of view as a Medical Director, my primary considerations would be:

  • Who is the medical director (name and verifiable credentials)?
  • What is the medical director’s specialty (such as Occupational Medicine or Family Medicine)?
  • Does the service provide follow-ups or is it simply a pass/fail outcome?
  • What are the provider hours for follow-ups?
  • How is Protected Health Information being stored and secured?

Why are the above aspects important to you as the medical director?

It’s important that providers of respirator clearance truly understand not only clinical medicine, but also the different components of the work environment and respirator usage. If you’re an employer ensuring the safety of your workforce, you should be sending your employees to someone with the professional experience to understand the respirator clearance process. Asking the questions above allows you to determine if the provider is qualified to provide respirator medical evaluations. Having an experienced team of providers allows Vest to review complicated medical histories efficiently and in the context of your workplace health and safety.

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