Workers' Comp Leadership

Pushing Occupational Medicine to the Forefront

Focusing on disability prevention, ACOEM’s new president intends to increase its influence in the occupational medicine field.
By: | July 28, 2014

“We want to make sure the breadth of what we’re doing is well known, because healthcare is really a team effort now,” said Kathryn Mueller, the new president of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

Muller was installed as president on April 30 during ACOEM’s 2014 American Occupational Health Conference in San Antonio, Texas, but has been involved with the organization since 1992 as a board member, secretary treasurer, chair of several committees and eventually vice president.

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Mueller is also a professor at the School of Public Health and Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Campus, the medical director for the Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation, and member of the Rocky Mountain Academy of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

As president, her goals center on expanding the role of occupational medicine in healthcare and society as a whole.

“It’s interesting that among the Western European countries and the U.S. and Canada, we really all have similar issues going on regarding cost of disability and understanding of what our specialty is and how we can contribute,” she said. “All of us want to show how we can benefit society in a larger sense, because our name — occupational medicine — kind of makes people think the only thing we know about it is people in the workplace. But actually wellness and disability management extends outside of the workplace, to any injuries.”

Those efforts include working with other associations and professionals in the occupational medicine field.

“We’re working on a paper on marijuana with the American Academy of Occupational Health Nurses. We have been meeting with industrial hygiene and safety associations because we think the message of improving worker health overall and decreasing disability spans many professions,” Mueller said. “We want to make sure we are reaching out to physicians, physician’s assistants and nurses who may not be board-certified but are practicing in our field. We want to educate them.”

“All of us want to show how we can benefit society in a larger sense, because our name — occupational medicine — kind of makes people think the only thing we know about it is people in the workplace. But actually wellness and disability management extends outside of the workplace, to any injuries.”

ACOEM has also been updating its practice guidelines, having just passed guidelines for opioids that stress analyzing the level of opioid use for workers in safety-sensitive positions. Revisions are also in the works for guidelines on low back pain, which Mueller anticipates will include changed recommendations on the use of injections.

Again emphasizing the breadth of occupational medicine, Mueller highlighted the guidelines’ focus on quality care with the ultimate goal of improved function.

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“And that’s not true for every guideline out there,” she said. “We take those ideas from the guidelines and those of us in occupational medicine are training other physicians to follow that type of thinking, aimed at improving patients’ function and decreasing disability.”

With a view to overall population health, Mueller said ACOEM is pushing its mission of reducing the occurrence of disability in the first place, not just to maintain productivity and control costs for businesses, but to keep society healthy.

“We’re the only specialty that does that,” she said.

Katie Dwyer is a freelance editor and writer based out of Philadelphia. She can be reached at [email protected]

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