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When an injury occurs

An employer's first response to a workplace injury should be getting the injured worker the medical care he or she needs. Then, the goal becomes returning the injured worker to the workplace.

For you, effective management of a workers' compensation claim can include the following activities.

Providing prompt access to medical care

  • Be sure the injured employee receives an early medical evaluation and an appropriate referral for specialty care as medically necessary.
  • Communicate with the managed care organization (MCO) to expedite care.
  • Work to ensure medical care is based on a specific diagnosis, when possible.
  • Look for treatment programs that include options for early return to work.

Providing support for the injured worker

  • A case manager can begin the process of considering how the worker's injury relates to such issues as work and home environment, personal skills and education.
  • Make the injured worker feel valued and encourage the worker to return as soon as possible.
  • Maintain a list of modified or alternate work for injured employees.
  • Educate the injured worker on how the workers' compensation system works.
  • Teach/coach the injured worker about the value of being an integral part of his/her own recovery.
  • Help provide prompt and adequate wage replacement.

Returning the employee to work

  • The injured worker (patient) and the physician should discuss time frames for recovery, expected duration of pain, the potential need for medication and options for returning to work.
  • The worker should resume, if possible, some form of work that meets the restrictions and requirements outlined by the treating physician. Such modified work is the cornerstone of job rehabilitation.
  • Include the treating physician in determining if the physical demands of a modified job are appropriate for the recovering worker.
  • Obtain workplace guides from the treating physician for you and the employee.
  • In all cases, help the treating physician understand the patient's work environment and occupational tasks. In difficult cases, a videotape of the job, formal job analysis or an ergonomic report may be helpful to assist in establishing workplace guides.
  • Consider all workplace guides flexible and ensure they're updated to reflect the improving medical condition.
  • Consider work hardening, functional capacity evaluations and other forms of physical therapy to simulate specific job demands so the worker can eventually resume previous work duties without re-injury during the return to work phase.
  • An injured worker must be taught to recognize cause and effect related to symptoms and accept responsibility for symptom control through strategies such as pacing, energy conservation and proper body mechanics.
  • If the treating physician and employer believe there are no suitable duties in the present workplace, it may be necessary to refer the injured worker to a vocational rehabilitation professional.

Preventing chronic pain

  • Physicians recognize that pain is individually experienced and can sometimes be influenced by a number of issues, including emotions, cultural differences, family support and social experiences. Early medical intervention can often limit the period of acute pain and frequently prevent chronic pain.
  • Additional intervention may be warranted when a treating physician recognizes that pain is being modified by the psychological state of the patient.

Encouraging safety and prevention measures

  • Workplace safety requires an understanding of how the physical factors often described as repetition, force, posture, vibration, contact stress and temperature interact with the individual's risk factors of age, gender and inherited genetic characteristics.
  • Encourage employees to report potentially hazardous conditions or situations for review.
  • Prevention requires a commitment from management, physician support and employee understanding.

For additional information, refer to the following topics.