How to increase injured employee engagement in the workers’ comp system
It's important to bring injured workers into the conversation about their treatment plan sooner rather than later. Less stress on the worker and lower claims costs for employers.
Some organizations are finding that advocating for, and working with the injured employee throughout the workers’ compensation process alleviates much of the confusion and concerns.
Getting injured employees more involved in their own recoveries has increasingly become a focus of workers’ compensation stakeholders in recent years, but it may be easier said than done. The system is confusing, and workers may have heard horror stories from friends or coworkers who’ve had negative experiences.
But organizations are finding that innovative efforts to improve satisfaction among their injured workers go a long way in producing better outcomes, for their employees and their companies.
“Seeing injured workers earlier, getting an accurate diagnosis and putting them on a treatment plan quickly not only aids in their recoveries, it also prevents misuse of medications,” said MaryRose Reaston, chief scientific officer and co-founder of Emerge Diagnostics. “Using a more objective, telehealth evaluation that can engage the patient anywhere means we go to them, and they get to see a board-certified specialist immediately.”
The company uses a telemedicine evaluation to connect injured workers with a board-certified physician to assess and diagnose soft tissue injuries. Depending on the physician’s review, the injured worker can undergo an on-the-spot Electrodiagnostic Functional Assessment, a technology approved by the Food and Drug Administration to accurately identify musculoskeletal injuries.
The EFA evaluation, especially when coupled with telemedicine means the injured worker can get specified treatment faster than what is typical for the workers’ compensation system. That, Reaston says, is a huge factor in getting injured workers more involved with their recoveries.
“Getting the right diagnosis from day one and being able to get expert specialists — even if the injured worker is in rural Idaho, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “A better diagnosis means better treatment and avoids that horrible cycle through opioids.”
Many companies are finding they can engage their injured workers more just by including them in the conversation. The days of leaving the employee out of the dialogue about the care and the claim are ending. Instead, organizations are putting the injured worker at the center of the discussion.
“We find a lot of times what the injured worker really wants is just to be heard,” said Jean Brajuha, vice president of operations for Restore Rehabilitation, which provides nurse case management services. “They feel like they’ve lost their way; they may be out of a job and having difficulty with their treatment.”
Brajuha says the nurses act as advocates for the injured worker. Explaining the complex workers’ compensation process goes a long way, especially when it’s done with empathy. “Often they don’t have someone else to talk to; it can be difficult for an adjuster to spend that kind of time,” she said. “Education and explanation help them be more engaged.”
Some organizations are finding that advocating for, and working with the injured employee throughout the workers’ compensation process alleviates much of the confusion and concerns. Companies such as Sedgwick take extra steps to reach out to these workers from the beginning.
“We’ve found that explaining the process up-front will help prevent litigation,” said Kathryn Tazic, managing director at Sedgwick. “The number one reason injured workers hire attorneys is that they don’t understand what’s going to happen to them as a person and they don’t understand the workers’ compensation process, which is getting more complicated. An advocacy approach allows us to spend more time with the injured worker who may be reporting a job-related injury for the first time and has no prior exposure to the workers’ compensation system.”
Toward that end, Sedgwick is among a growing number of organizations that are working with injured workers before they undergo surgeries or other medical procedures. It is being termed “prehabilitation.”
“A lot of what we’re talking about now is helping people understand what to expect and not just telling them ‘you are going to have surgery.’ Instead, we talk about what they should expect during the recovery process including the type of pain they may experience and what to do about it.” Tazic explained. “The goal is to make recovery less painful and as quick as possible.”
Explaining why and how specific treatments will be done further advances patient engagement. Injured employees who can see the actual benefits of treatment to their work and lives are apt to be more compliant with treatment regimens.
“Treating the worker one-on-one, especially if it can be done at the worksite, gets the patient much more involved; we are able to assign a reason for the therapy,” said Daniel Sanchez, vice president of operations for OnSite Physio, which provides physical therapy for injured workers at work, at home or in clinics.
“We can see what their specific work tasks are. So instead of putting them on a leg-press machine and hoping they are able to understand that it is supposed to translate to them being able to lift a box, they can understand why we have them doing certain things and how it will actually help them lift the box.”
Sanchez also advocates having the same physical therapy provider work with the injured worker whenever possible. That, he says builds trust. “They become more attentive and feel like they are participating more,” he said. “They should become a participant rather than just a recipient of the treatment.”
Treating injured workers at their worksites not only improves worker engagement worker, but it also helps the employer become more involved. They can see that the injured worker is actually participating in medical treatments.
“The results are better because the employee and the employer are both engaged,” Tazic said. “So, along with patient engagement is how engaged their employer is in making sure they are recovering and getting better.”
Engaging the employer in the recovery process ultimately benefits the company in increased productivity — especially when the person returns to work sooner, even if it is on modified duty. The employer’s engagement with the injured worker must be done in a way that best meets the worker’s needs.
“At Sedgwick, our teams are advising our clients to reach out to the injured worker and acknowledge that he is having surgery. It’s important to let that person know what they can expect from the company,” Tazic said. “If our data indicates there is an issue with a manager, we may suggest someone else reach out to the injured worker as well.”
Tazic explained a key reason injured workers don’t return to their jobs is that they feel unsettled in their work situation. Knowing the employer is concerned about their well-being and is looking forward to their return can aid recovery.
“The earlier we can be involved [with the injured worker] the better because it fosters an early sense of trust and connection and shows the employer has a strong sense of caring and wants them to get what they need,” Brajuha said. “It promotes a sense of trust from all parties in the recovery process and that they are the most important thing in that.”
These and other efforts to actively engage injured works in their recoveries are yielding positive results all around. “When someone is engaged and we have that contact with them we absolutely see stronger and more successful recoveries,” Brajuha said. “They are more engaged and compliant with the treatment recommendations.”