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Can 'functional restoration' improve return to work times?

As an employer, you may be accustomed to seeing different employee responses to various kinds of work injuries. For example, you may have witnessed one employee stumble and hurt their knee, but decline to file a work comp claim and simply keep working while taking an over-the-counter medication for a few days. However, you may have also witnessed an employee who suffered the same sort of injury not only file a work comp claim, but also develop a full-blown disability that prevents them from returning to their previous position.

Interestingly, one expert has theorized that some employees simply respond differently to work injuries than others, meaning their returns to work are shaped just as much by their physical recovery than by their upbringing, pain threshold, and attitude about work.

Consequently, he recommends that employers try to focus on so-called "functional restoration."

"[Functional restoration is] returning employees to the function level they had before they were injured," said Dr. Douglas Benner, a product development officer for San Jose-based EK Health. "You need to determine how people handle illness and injury. Some people make big things out of little things."

According to Benner, employers can practice functional restoration by attempting to categorize injured employees into one of three groups - low, medium and high-risk. Such a classification scheme, he argues, can help medical professionals (physicians, nurses, physical therapists, therapists) cater their respective treatments to help improve outcomes.

To illustrate, injured employees grouped into the high-risk category may often suffer from "psychological obstacles" in addition to their work injuries, necessitating both mental health treatment and rehabilitation.

"There needs to be a collaborative approach between the physical therapist, the nurse practitioner or the claims manager and the physician," said Benner. "They need to show the employee that he has experienced measured improvement every week and essentially, coach the employees like a trainer would. Reassure them they're doing well and they will recover."

Conversely, injured employees grouped into the low-risk category may require just medical treatment and occasional reassurance that they will return to their previous position.

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.


EHS Today, "Expert Offers Suggestions for Reducing Re-Injury and Returning Injured Employees to Work" Nov. 28, 2011

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