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Can employers reduce work comp costs with an internal health program?

There is no question that an injured employee can present certain financial and logistical concerns for an employer. Outside of perhaps having to deal with workers' compensation defense costs, an employer also faces the prospect of a smaller workforce and decreased productivity.

Interestingly, a recently published study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reveals that there are a few basic steps that employers can consider to mitigate these consequences.

According to researchers, employers who consider implementing an internal health program - meaning regular access to both physical medicine and rehabilitation - may see their injured employees return to their positions much earlier.

"Lost workdays due to work-related injury can be a financial burden for both the employer and the employee," reads the study. "Unnecessary time away from work also creates psychological issues and physical deconditioning."

How did the researchers arrive at this conclusion regarding the implementation of an internal health program?

The researchers decided to focus their efforts on healthcare workers, a segment of the workforce that is especially prone to workplace injuries and illnesses. (Government statistics show that in 2007 alone, healthcare workers suffered 7.7 injuries/illnesses and 1.7 missed workdays for every 100 full-time employees.)

Specifically, they focused on St. Mary's Duluth Clinic Health System in Minnesota, where an internal health program was implemented in 2005. As part of this program, St. Mary's provided increased access to medical care for injured workers along with better communication and return-to-work options. In addition, the facility provided both transitional work programs and workplace rehabilitation supplied by licensed athletic trainers free of charge.

Researchers examined the incidence of work comp claims filed by St. Mary's employees in the 23-month period preceding the internal health program and the 23-month period following the implementation of the internal health program.

What did they find?

"[The internal health program] reduced lost work days, with adjusted odds of returning to work following a work related injury event more than doubling by 3 weeks," the study read. "By four weeks, 54.7 percent of [internal health program participants] had returned to work, compared with 35.7 percent of period preceding [participants]. By six weeks, the difference had increased to 68 percent of [internal health program participants] and 40.3 percent of period preceding [participants]."

Stay tuned for further developments in the area of workers' compensation defense law...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.


Risk & Insurance, "Study: On-site rehab helps reduce lost work days in health care field" Oct. 20, 2011

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