When many companies think about managing workplace injuries, they may think about OSHA reporting rules, light duty and avoiding litigation, but the real key to improving outcomes and holding down costs is to get inside the worker’s head, according to a new study.
A white paper looks at the RMS Workers’ Compensation Benchmarking Study for 2016, which asked companies to rank the biggest obstacles to improving claim outcomes. The number one obstacle wasn’t lawsuits, return-to-work problems or late reporting of injuries (although those were high on the list). The top problem was addressing what the study calls “Psychosocial Roadblocks.”
Behavioral issues, the way a worker thinks, feels, and acts as a result of the injury and his/her perception of the company’s treatment of the injury, came out as the top issue that affects how long workers stay off the job and their ultimate successful recovery. For example, the paper refers to one study that looked at how worker fears impact recovery times, “the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that injured workers with emotional distress, such as pain catastrophizing and activity avoidance, were seven times less likely than those in the low-risk group to return to work within three months.”
That is why many smart companies are moving to an “advocacy-model” which
emphasizes communication with the patient and stresses that the company is committed to helping with a full recovery. The chart below shows the progress the surveyed companies have made in adopting an advocacy model.
One example is a nurse telephone triage process to help address the psychosocial needs discussed in the study:
- Communication The nurse talks to the patient about the injury, the extent of the damage and options for treatment. The worker is not left in the dark about what will be done to assess the injury or to treat it. Sometimes we forget how frightening it can be to be left in the dark when you are hurt.
- Advocacy The worker is the nurse’s patient and the nurse’s license requires that she provide the right care. The worker knows that he or she won’t be given substandard treatment or be pushed to get back to work prematurely.
- Early Intervention The best results come with early injury management. Many types of injuries may be fairly easy to treat if addressed quickly, but more importantly, the faster the patient is helped, the lower the stress level.
- Company Support The use of the nurse hotline quickly establishes that the company intends to help the worker. It sends the message that the worker will receive a proper level of care and that the company wants to assist the employee.
- Continuity If the injury allows the employee to return to work in a light duty capacity, the nurse can help ensure that the job functions are compatible with the employee’s recovery. If the injury is serious enough to require workers compensation, the nurse will make sure the file is complete and there are no delays in starting treatment. This way, the employee does not feel like his/her case is being handed off from one office to another.