FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON PUBLIC SAFETY MEDICAL EXAMINATIONS
The following questions and answers were developed in response to questions received from municipal physicians and from problem areas identified in an audit of public safety medical examinations conducted by the Massachusetts Human Resources Division (HRD).
Q. If I have questions about medical examination standards and procedures, where may I seek guidance?
A. You may contact the Public Safety Medical Standards Team at HRD at (617) 727-3777. They will have answers to many routine questions.
Q. I use a standard examination form for all of my industrial clients. May I use my own history and physical examination form for public safety physicals?
A. No. HRD has developed a Medical Examination Form, which closely parallels the Medical Standards for police officers and fire fighters. The use of this standard form will improve the uniformity of the examination process between different municipalities and help ensure that the correct Medical Standards are applied. All positive answers in the Medical History section should be reviewed with the applicant and all body systems listed in the Medical Examination section should be examined. The HRD Medical Examination Form ensures that all necessary information is reported to the municipal authority.
Q. How should completed records be handled to keep the medical contents confidential while providing the municipal authority with necessary information?
A. Detailed medical information should be kept confidential. Ordinarily, only information regarding examinees’ abilities to perform the essential functions of the job is returned to the municipal authority using Section I (Medical Verification Section) of the standard Medical Examination Form. Section I also includes a line where the examining physician should indicate the specific section(s) of the Medical Standards that an unsuccessful examinee failed.
In order to ensure confidentiality, the entire Medical Examination Form is normally retained by the examining physician for the duration of their contract with the municipality. The forms should be kept in a secure file for that municipality, separate from the physician's other patient records. If the physician serves more than one municipality, the files for each should be kept separate. If the physician's contract with a municipality expires or is terminated, the medical records of examinations performed for that municipality remain the property of the municipality. Normally, the municipality will arrange for transportation of the records to the office of the successor contractor for maintenance and storage. However, the municipality may, at its option, demand and take without additional compensation all records related to services provided under the contract. The contractor must turn over all such records upon request, but may retain copies of those documents that were produced by the contractor.
One exception to the above procedures involves municipalities that employ their own medical personnel. Municipalities with municipal medical offices employing physicians and/or registered nurses may choose to maintain their own medical records. In this case, the contractor should forward the entire completed Medical Examination Form to the municipal medical office and a copy of Section I to the appointing authority and to HRD. The contracting physician may retain copies of these documents. Municipal public safety departments that currently have contracts with medical providers that allow the department to receive entire completed medical examination records of examinees may continue such practice, with the proviso that strict examinee confidentiality be maintained.
Q. Must applicants for positions as police officers and fire fighters meet the visual standard in each eye?
A. The visual acuity standard for both municipal police officers and fire fighters is a monocular standard. This standard may be met by demonstrating the required visual acuity in either eye separately or with both eyes together. The peripheral vision standard requires two functioning eyes (no less than 70 degrees temporally and 45 degrees nasally in either eye) to achieve a view field of 140 degrees in the horizontal meridian. The examiner should also note that there are different standards for corrected and uncorrected vision for police officers and fire fighters. The police officer standard includes, in addition, a color standard and a vision testing by Ishihara or Richmond pseudo-isochromatic plates.
Q. What hearing tests are required? Is a "whisper test" satisfactory, or does an audiogram need to be performed?
A. A “whisper test” is not satisfactory. An audiogram must be performed. Both police officers and fire fighters are likely to be exposed to high levels of noise in the line of duty. For this reason, it is necessary to establish baseline hearing levels at the time of hire for purposes of comparison if a disability claim is filed later in the employee's career. Hearing should be tested at least at 500 Hz, 1000 Hz, 2000 Hz and 3000 Hz using an audiometer which has been calibrated within the previous 12 months and a sound proof hearing booth. If a sound proof booth is not available, the test room sound pressure levels must be measured using a calibrated noise level meter and found to not exceed those specified in the Federal OSHA noise regulations (29 CFR 1910.25). Although not required, testing at 4000 to 8000 Hz may be included.
Q. Are pulmonary function tests required, and if so, which ones?
A. Basic pulmonary function tests, including FVC and FEV1 are required. Extended testing including flow volume loops, pulmonary diffusion tests, etc. are not required by the Medical Standards for police officers and fire fighters.
Q. Should HIV testing be performed on applicants?
A. HIV testing is not required under the Medical Standards and is not medically indicated as part of a preplacement evaluation. A positive HIV test, in the absence of other manifestations of illness, would not affect the assessment of an applicant’s ability to perform the essential functions of either a police officer or fire fighter. The results could not be considered in any preplacement risk assessment. It may be true that a police officer or fire fighter is at increased risk for injuries, which would result in blood loss and blood exposure to others. However, the use of universal precautions should be sufficient to protect personnel providing first aid against bloodborne pathogens.
Q. When should a pregnancy test be administered to a female applicant?
A. There is no reason to perform pregnancy testing on female applicants. If a woman reports on the questionnaire that she is pregnant, an opinion should be sought from her treating physician regarding any restrictions that would be needed in the forthcoming months. Depending on the stage of pregnancy, it may be wise for the applicant to request a deferral of appointment until after delivery. Such a determination is the joint responsibility of the applicant, the treating physician and the examining physician.
Q. Should a TB skin test be part of the applicant evaluation?
A. A TB test is required by HRD as part of the pre-placement evaluation.
The Medical Standards include a review for potentially transmissible infectious disease. Active tuberculosis is a Category A Condition which precludes hire in both police and fire departments. A tuberculin test could therefore be properly included in the preplacement evaluation. Both fire fighters and police officers may be called upon to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Active TB could easily be transmitted to others under these circumstances. Fire fighters live in close proximity to each other in the fire house, raising the risk of transmission of TB to other fire fighters. Applicants who test positive on a 5 t.u. PPD tuberculin test should have a chest x-ray to rule out active TB and be referred to the nearest state sponsored TB clinic for further evaluation. Applicants with a prior history of a positive PPD test should not be retested. They should be required to provide the report of a negative chest x-ray performed subsequent to the TB positive test. If such an x-ray report is not available, then the applicant should be required to provide the report of a new chest x-ray.
Q. May a drug test be performed on applicants for police and fire positions?
A. Although the Medical Standards do not require a drug test, it should be noted that active substance abuse is a Category A Condition. Some municipalities may require drug testing of job candidates at the time of hiring. Such tests may be performed either before or as part of the preplacement examination. If a drug test is performed, it should include rigorous chain of custody to forensic standards and confirmation of all positive results using gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy (GC-MS). Appropriate cutoff levels should be used, and the results reviewed by a trained Medical Review Officer (MRO) using methods consistent with those required for testing conducted under the auspices of the United States Department of Transportation. A drug test is not considered a medical test, and the results may be disclosed to the requesting municipality.
Q. What height and weight standard should be used for examination?
A. The Medical Standards do not include any height and weight standards. Both police and fire fighter applicants must pass a Physical Abilities Test (PAT) which has been designed to determine the ability to perform the essential functions of the job for which they are being hired. Applicants who pass the PAT are eligible for hire if they meet the other medical standards regardless of height and weight.
Q. Are applicants with high cholesterol eligible for positions as police officers and fire fighters?
A. The Medical Standards contain no specific cholesterol standard. An elevated cholesterol level is only one of a number of possible cardiovascular risk factors. A moderately elevated cholesterol in an otherwise healthy applicant without other significant risk factors would be unlikely to pose serious employment risks. However, a more seriously elevated cholesterol, especially in the presence of other elevated risk factors, might indicate the need for further assessment. In this event, the applicants should be advised of the tests needed (e.g. an exercise tolerance test), instructed to obtain the tests through their own physicians, and to return the results to the examining physician.
Q. Do applicants require immunization for Hepatitis B?
A. Both police officers and fire fighters are at risk for bloodborne pathogen exposure. Although most will work for government entities, which are exempt from OSHA regulations, the OSHA regulations reflect a standard of practice that would be reasonable and desireable for municipalities to adopt. Applicants who have had a partial course of immunizations should receive sufficient vaccinations to complete the course.
Q. Are chemistry and hematology tests required for either police or fire fighter applicants?
A. No specific chemistry or hematology tests are required under the Medical Standards. Some municipalities may request additional tests. These may be performed, but the results should be used primarily to advise the applicant regarding the need for follow up of any medical condition detected. A laboratory finding, in and of itself, is not a reason to disqualify an applicant. When a laboratory test reveals a pre-existing medical condition, this condition should be considered and evaluated to determine whether it poses risks under the Medical Standards.