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Occupational Health Referrals: Choosing Between Face-to-Face and Remote Appointments

Referring an employee to occupational health can help you understand how best to manage employee health concerns at work. Occupational health referrals (also known as management referrals) take place for a whole host of reasons, such as:

  • To aid a safe return to work after illness or injury

  • To understand new diagnoses and their impact on work and vice versa

  • To support long term conditions at work

  • To assess ill health retirement cases

  • To review health after an accident at work

  • To give advice about medical capability

This list isn’t exhaustive!

With so many reasons for referral, HR Managers and employers want to be sure that they are getting the best advice following the appointment to help them manage their employees’ health at work.

Remote Vs Face-to-Face Occupational Health Referrals

Remote appointments shot up in popularity during the pandemic for obvious reasons, providing a way for OH to continue to offer advice safely.

Since restrictions have eased, many OH services have continued to offer remote appointments – either video or telephone calls – as a way of offering a more flexible service.

At AHM, we offer both remote and face-to-face appointments, because we know that some appointments are better in person, whilst others benefit from the speed and accessibility of a remote OH appointment.

But what is the difference between a remote occupational health referral and a face-to-face appointment, and when does it really make a difference? We asked our clinical team for their thoughts…

The Case for Face-to-Face Occupational Health Referrals:

When it comes to certain health issues, nothing quite compares to the depth of assessment and reassurance provided by face-to-face consultations. Here's why:

Complex Physical Examinations:

Conditions such as cardiac, respiratory, abdominal, and neurological disorders often require more thorough physical examinations that are best conducted in person.


Musculoskeletal Assessments: 

While video consultations can suffice for some musculoskeletal concerns, face-to-face appointments offer a better view of the patient during the examination, for example the OH doctor or nurse can observe their gait whilst walking. Also during physical examination, it’s possible to pick up other positive findings while examining the joint such as a collection of fluid (effusion) and crepitus (a palpable or audible grating or crunching sensation produced by motion).


Detailed Observation: 

Direct interaction enables healthcare professionals to observe nuances and physical cues that may go unnoticed in a remote setting, such as fidgeting hands and finger picking indicating anxiety.


Building Rapport: 

Establishing trust and rapport helps the employee feel comfortable enough to talk openly, leading to a more thorough report. Face-to-face appointments allow for deeper connections between occupational health specialists and employees, fostering a sense of empathy, understanding, and mutual respect. Employees often report feeling they have been better listened to when they have had a face-to-face appointment and feel more reassured.

A doctor and patent smile together whilst looking at a clipboard.
Establishing trust and rapport helps the employee feel comfortable enough to talk openly.


Patient Preference: 

It's worth noting that while remote consultations have their advantages, many individuals still prefer the personal touch and reassurance offered by face-to-face appointments.

"Overall, it's a balance of what the patient/employee wants too. Some are happy to consult remotely but I think there is an increasing proportion that want to revert back to traditional face to face appointments particularly after the pandemic, as afterwards, they are likely to feel they have been better listened to, received an examination in person and it also provides a personal and human touch to the appointment which is likely to further reassure and comfort the patient/employee about their health concern(s) and hopefully increasing satisfaction levels with the service. "

- Dr Chris Greaney, All Health Matters


The Advantages of Remote Occupational Health Referrals:



Remote appointments remove the need for travel and waiting room time, allowing employees to access occupational health services from the comfort of their own homes or workplaces. This convenience can lead to increased appointment attendance and reduced downtime from work.



Remote appointments overcome barriers such as geographic location, mobility issues, or transportation limitations. This ensures that employees in remote or underserved areas have equal access to OH services, promoting inclusivity and equity.



Remote consultations offer greater flexibility in scheduling, allowing employees to book appointments at times that are convenient for them. This flexibility can accommodate diverse work schedules and personal commitments, reducing disruptions to productivity and home life.


Mental Health: 

With a sharp rise in mental health cases in recent months, the ability to talk to occupational health from a familiar environment and without the need to travel can relieve anxiety for some individuals.


Pandemic Preparedness: 

In times of public health crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, remote appointments offer a safe and effective alternative to in-person consultations. The risk of virus transmission is reduced while ensuring a comprehensive OH service is still delivered. This adaptability to changing circumstances enhances the resilience of occupational health services and promotes continuity of support for employees.


The decision between face-to-face and remote occupational health appointments is not a case of one being better than the other. There are good reasons for choosing both options, and each case needs to be considered individually. Relevant factors, including the nature of the health issue, patient preferences, and logistical considerations will all inform the decision. By understanding the strengths and limitations of each approach, HR managers and employers can navigate occupational health consultations with confidence, ultimately promoting the wellbeing and productivity of their workforce.

All Health Matters offers in-person occupational health referrals in Canterbury (CT2), East London (E16), and West London (TW8), as well as remote video and telephone consultations. We'll set you up with your own client dashboard to refer employees, receive reports, and track the status of your cases. Get in touch now.




Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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