It is amazing to me as a Doctor how much we are prone to ignoring the benefits of thinking about our communication.
When I worked in Australia a driver of heavy trucks – let’s call him Tony aged 56 – presented from his employer, because he was falling asleep in the common eating area. He was ‘larger than life’, but didn’t feel like it due to constant tiredness and reported a snoring history that is a possible indicator of a condition called Sleep Apnoea.
Expert communication skills were required to explain to Tony he must cease driving until clariﬁcation was made and treatment was sought. Tony was not happy with this legislated restriction, but by explaining gently to him that we could ensure the safety of himself and our community, he accepted the recommendation. I encouraged him that with good medical management he would be able to safely get back to his job in the coming months.
This was just the start of the ongoing communication process. I then ensured Tony was happy for me to speak with his health and safety manager, who had referred him, before discussing the case and recommending alternative duties in the truck yard. This helped to keep Tony engaged in the work environment while awaiting investigation and treatment.
We know that keeping the worker engaged with the workplace is a signiﬁcant factor in achieving long-term positive outcomes. Fortunately, Tony’s company was happy to provide alternative duties, which is not always the case. The company funded a private referral to a sleep clinic for rapid investigation, which was undertaken within four weeks and conﬁrmed sleep apnoea. I liaised with Tony and the treatment nurse, and indicated that his dedication to treatment with a breathing mask at night was important to aid his return to driving work. With this in mind, the nurse went the extra mile in her communication with Tony, taking the trouble to ring and check in with him throughout the process. The workplace was ecstatic to get the clearance for Tony to return to his driving, with an annual check-up to ensure his ongoing safety. He even found a way to get active by dusting off his bike and lost a few kilos along the way.
I am pleased that I get to make a difference in people’s lives and help keep the community safer. Tony’s case is just one that demonstrates the vital importance of communications in managing workplace health problems, and Tony’s health, family, employer, and his community all beneﬁted from Tony getting back to his job.