What is ECHO OEM?

ECHO Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ECHO OEM) is a telementoring program for primary health-care providers in Ontario. It aims to increase their capacity to treat and support patients with occupational or environmental exposures or conditions that affect their ability to work.

ECHO is an innovative model of mentoring that increases care provider capacity to improve health and community outcomes, particularly in remote, rural and underserved areas. It uses an “all-teach, all-learn” approach where care providers meet weekly via videoconference for case-based discussions guided by a team of interprofessional experts and they receive recommendations on cases to enable them to care for patients in their own communities. Learn more about the ECHO model.

The ECHO OEM program:

  • applies the ECHO model to assist Ontario primary health-care providers who are treating patients with injuries and illnesses related to work or environmental exposures
  • includes an evaluation of the program's effectiveness in increasing the competency of health-care providers in occupational and environmental medicine
  • is being developed, implemented and evaluated by a team of researchers based at the Institute for Work & Health and University of Toronto (learn more about the research team)
  • funded through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) Grant Program



Who is ECHO OEM for?

ECHO OEM is for Ontario primary health-care providers who want to learn about best practices in occupational and environmental medicine to better support their patients in recovery and return to work or stay at work. Health-care providers that can benefit from the program include family physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, psychologists, chiropractors, physical and occupational therapists, and more—any frontline health-care provider who treats patients with work-related injuries and illnesses.

It's for primary care providers who want to:

  • experience a learning approach that sticks
  • share their experience and knowledge with others
  • make new connections that last
  • obtain CE credits

To participate in ECHO OEM, providers must:

  • be licensed to practice in Ontario (students in a relevant programs are welcome)
  • consider presenting a patient case during a 12-week cycle, if applicable
  • be able to communicate in English

Why is ECHO OEM needed?

Health-care providers in primary care settings play a pivotal role in supporting recovery and return to work (RTW) or stay at work after a work-related injury or illness. However, providers typically receive little training in how to effectively support these patients and ensure their best recovery and RTW or stay-at-work outcomes.

As a result, frontline health-care providers are not always familiar with how to identify work injuries, illnesses or environmental exposures, how to assess a patient’s work function, or how to communicate with workplaces about modified work or accommodations. Many also experience difficulty dealing with workers’ compensation or other insurers and do not know how to communicate with them about medical diagnoses or recovery expectations.

It is not always possible for health-care providers to turn to colleagues for advice, especially providers who work in solo clinics or in remote, rural or under-served communities. This is where ECHO OEM comes in. It provides a forum for primary health-care providers to present complex patient cases and receive best practice advice from OEM specialists and other ECHO participants. This community of practice will build health-care provider capacity to improve the health and work outcomes of injured or ill patients.

How does ECHO OEM work?

Each cycle of ECHO OEM comprises 12 videoconference sessions. Each session includes an expert-led didactic and a case discussion component in which participating health-care providers discuss their patient cases and hear recommendations from experts and each other about how to manage them.

Participation is open to primary care providers treating patients whose return to work or stay at work is not going as planned, whether the injury or health condition is work-related or not.

Participants must register to attend. Registration is free. See the program overview for details.

How was the ECHO OEM program developed?

The project team began developing the ECHO OEM program in January 2021. It involved three main steps:  

  • an assessment of health-care provider learning needs to inform an OEM-specific ECHO curriculum  
  • recruitment of members for the "expert hub" to guide the ECHO OEM sessions, including professionals in occupational medicine, occupational health nursing, occupational therapy, occupational hygiene, chronic pain, mental health and workers' compensation  
  • consultations with other ECHO programs in Ontario and patient advocates to determine criteria for presenting patient cases and guidance recommendations for primary care providers. 

How is ECHO OEM being evaluated?

The ECHO OEM research team will be conducting an evaluation of the feasibility and acceptability of ECHO OEM in Ontario. In particular, the team will assess the ability of the program to:

  • increase capacity of health-care professionals in primary care settings to manage patients with work-related injuries or illnesses and environmental exposures
  • improve communication between health-care providers and WSIB
  • improve access to care in remote and underserved communities
  • remain true to the ECHO model

The results of the ECHO OEM project evaluation will be made available on this website.