Opinion: Company-doctors

POSTED: 07/6/11 1:41 PM

The Arbo-law regulates in the Netherlands the position of company-doctors. The law guarantees their independence. That is important, because employees who go for a visit to such a doctor mostly don’t want their employer to hear the details of their ailments. And rightly so: employers are not entitled to such private information.

But a research by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor shows that an astonishing 8 percent of company doctors occasionally provide confidential medical information to employers. Twenty percent of company-doctors say that employers put a lot of pressure on them and that they are unable to function independently.

Of the 591 company-doctors that were interviewed for the survey, 42 percent said they were sometimes approached for information, and 22 percent said that this happened often. And finally, 8 percent of the doctors give up the information, especially to employers in medium and small enterprises.

On the other hand, two-thirds of employers said that the company doctors ought to deal with medical information the way general practitioners do, but 9 percent totally disagrees.

Employers often pressure their company-doctors to declare an employee unfit to work; this would enable the company to get rid of the employee who in turn is insured of generous social benefits. This is often the “solution” for labor conflicts.

Companies sometimes threaten doctors who do not play ball that they will switch to the services of another doctor. Doctors who work for an Arbo-service are under pressure from their own employer over fears of losing customers.

What do we learn from this survey? That the Dutch have a law in place designed to protect the integrity of company-doctors, and to safeguard private medical information, but that almost one in every ten doctors violates the trust of their patients. Employers who pressure their company-doctors this way probably don’t realize that in the long run their attitude will backfire: employees will increasingly stay away from the company-doctor, or refuse to give up information their employer could use against them later on.

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