As employers strive to keep their workers healthy and productive, your workplace may have doctors conduct medical exams to diagnose and prevent workplace injuries. Some exams may lead to further tests and treatments that are unnecessary, expensive or even risky — possibly causing you time off from work.
These tests and treatments include X-rays, sleep studies and certain pain relievers. By considering certain guidelines from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, you can discuss with your employer what medical tests or treatments are necessary and if there are alternative options.
X-rays are usually not needed for low back pain. “X-rays for lower back pain may lead doctors to order follow-up tests or treatments from specialists, but simpler, less costly treatments may be best,” says Dr. Stephen Munday, medical director of occupational medicine with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group.
“These alternatives include learning how to safely lift objects, doing physical therapy or taking over-the-counter pain medications,” he says.
Dr. Munday adds that X-rays should be ordered if there is a clear need, such as fever, a bone condition, history of injury or major loss of bodily function.
X-rays are not helpful for diagnosing plantar fasciitis. Employees who are constantly on their feet may be susceptible to this painful foot condition, caused by tissue injury along the bottom of the foot.
“Plantar fasciitis can be diagnosed without an X-ray,” says Dr. Munday. “To relieve pain, ask your doctor about stretching exercises, losing weight, learning how to slowly bear weight, or avoiding running.”
Sleep issues such as fatigue and insomnia can be diagnosed without a sleep study. Rather than undergoing a sleep study to diagnose insomnia, you should first talk to your doctor about causes for your lack of sleep, such as stress, depression or anxiety.
“You may need a sleep study if you experience daytime sleepiness, along with symptoms such as loud snoring, headache and waking up with a sore throat — all of which could indicate sleep apnea,” says Dr. Munday.
Avoid opioid pain relievers if you have a safety-sensitive job. Opioids are commonly prescribed pain relievers that can be dangerous to employees who operate machinery as part of their job. These medications cause nearly 170,000 deaths in the U.S. every year.
“If opioids aren’t necessary to treat your pain, your doctor can recommend over-the-counter pain medicine, exercise, ice, heat or physical therapy as an alternative,” says Dr. Munday. “However, if opioids are needed for a short time, be sure you avoid operating heavy machinery or driving a vehicle.”
At Sharp Rees-Stealy, we want to empower you to make well-informed health care decisions, including those affecting you at your workplace. That’s why we’ve made it our priority to reduce the number of ineffective medical treatments by participating in Choosing Wisely®.
Choosing Wisely, an initiative of the ABIM Foundation, educates patients and doctors on selecting the most effective treatment available and avoiding unproductive, costly procedures. Sharp Rees-Stealy is the only medical group in Southern California to participate in this national campaign.