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Evidence review leads to recommendations on future research aimed at protecting and improving health of workers

Evidence review leads to recommendations on future research aimed at protecting and improving health of workers

FeltnerResearchers from the Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) recently completed a systematic evidence review of integrated interventions to improve the health and safety of workers that was used to identify research gaps and future research priorities.

The evidence review from the RTI International-UNC Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC) was published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine on May 31st. The review evaluated a small and diverse body of evidence on integrated Total Worker Health® interventions, defined as policies, programs, and practices that integrate both occupational safety and programs that advance worker well-being. The evidence suggests that integrated Total Worker Health® interventions might improve health behaviors, such as reducing tobacco use and sedentary behavior; however, the effects of the interventions on safety of workers and overall quality of life remain unknown.

“This is a new, and growing body of evidence. I’m not surprised that we were unable to make many conclusions on the benefits of Total Worker Health interventions,” said Cynthia Feltner, MD, MPH the principal investigator on the study. “Studies conducted so far have enrolled diverse populations of workers, assessed complex and heterogeneous interventions, and evaluated a wide range of health outcomes. We were able to make many important conclusions on the current “research gaps” in this field. We also highlight several future research needs for researchers and funders in this field to consider in order to address these gaps.”

The review, supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality, was commissioned to inform the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Pathways to Prevention workshop, “Total Worker Health—What’s Work Got to Do With It?” held in December. A position paper from the NIH outlining the recommendations from the workshop, as well as a response from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), was published alongside the evidence review.

The NIH’s recommendations included organizing a meeting of stakeholders to set research priorities for integrated interventions and developing a consensus-based conceptual framework to guide future intervention research. The RTI-UNC EPC evidence review also found that few studies used a theoretical model, highlighting the need for an organizing resource to guide future research.

“This review was critical in informing the workshop panel’s recommendation,” said Feltner. “During the conference, I gave presentations summarizing the main findings of our review. It was satisfying to witness the panel members and other participants interact with our review and use our findings to make recommendations on future research in this field.”

Other authors of the study were Rachel Palmieri Weber, PhD and Emmanuel Coker-Schwimmer, MPH from the Sheps Center and  Kristina Peterson, PhD; Laurie Cluff, PhD; Meera Viswanathan, PhD; and Kathleen Lohr, PhD from RTI International.