Article

The Role of Healthcare Providers in Return to Work

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Abstract

International research has generated strong evidence that healthcare providers (HCPs) play a key role in the return to work (RTW) process. However, pressure on consultation time, administrative challenges and limited knowledge about a patient's workplace can thwart meaningful engagement. Aim: Our study sought to understand how HCPs interact with workers compensation boards (WCBs), manage the treatment of workers compensation patients and navigate the RTW process. Method: The study involved in-depth interviews with 97 HCPs in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador and interviews with 34 case managers (CMs). An inductive, constant comparative analysis was employed to develop key themes. Findings: Most HCPs did not encounter significant problems with the workers compensation system or the RTW process when they treated patients who had visible, acute, physical injuries, but faced challenges when they encountered patients with multiple injuries, gradual-onset or complex illnesses, chronic pain and mental health conditions. In these circumstances, many experienced the workers compensation system as opaque and confusing. A number of systemic, process and administrative hurdles, disagreements about medical decisions and lack of role clarity impeded the meaningful engagement of HCPs in RTW. In turn, this has resulted in challenges for injured workers (IWs), as well as inefficiencies in the workers compensation system. Conclusion: This study raises questions about the appropriate role of HCPs in the RTW process. We offer suggestions about practices and policies that can clarify the role of HCPs and make workers compensation systems easier to navigate for all stakeholders.

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... Previous research, however, has highlighted a lack of clarity around the role of health professionals' in RTW processes [30,31]. Our study confirmed that direct communication between health professionals and employers and healthcare providers that advocated for workers with injuries supported successful RTW. ...
... Our study confirmed that direct communication between health professionals and employers and healthcare providers that advocated for workers with injuries supported successful RTW. Others have suggested that GP training and the introduction of guidelines to define the role of health professionals in RTW processes could be beneficial [30][31][32]. Future research focused on establishing effective processes and roles that enable clear communication and collaboration between major participants in the RTW process. ...
Article
Objective: To explore how people with serious injuries returned to paid employment in the first 3-years after injury. Methods: Fifty-four adult survivors of serious injuries were interviewed at 3-years post-injury, all of whom had returned to work and were currently employed. A framework analysis approach was undertaken. Results: Participant decisions and actions taken to return to work (RTW) were influenced by their resilience, approach to adjusting goals, priorities and plans, and how social connections and relationships were used and maintained. The environment in which these decisions and actions were taken shaped opportunities for work in meaningful, appropriate and sustained employment. Conclusions: Our study of 54 people who RTW indicated the importance of personal adjustments and resources, positive social relations, and advanced planning aligning with responsive employers, insurers and health professionals for successful RTW.
... Across many jurisdictions globally, funding healthcare is one of the main mechanisms by which workers' compensation schemes assist injured workers in their recovery. As part of the workers' compensation process, healthcare workers provide a vital role in examining injured worker's conditions, determining the work-relatedness of injury, providing treatment and rehabilitation [1]. Thus, compensation schemes are critical in supporting not only injured workers and the workplace, but healthcare providers play a key role in facilitating an injured worker's return to work. ...
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Purposes Timely delivery of treatment and rehabilitation is generally acknowledged to support injury recovery. This study aimed to describe the timing of health service use by injured truck drivers with work-related injury and to explore the association between demographic and injury factors and the duration of health service use. Methods Retrospective cohort study of injured truck drivers with accepted workers’ compensation claims in the state of Victoria, Australia. Descriptive analyses examined the percentage of injured truck drivers using health services by service type. Logistic regression model examined predictors of any service use versus no service use, and predictors of extended service use (≥ 52 weeks) versus short-term use. Results The timing of health service use by injured truck drivers with accepted workers’ compensation claims varies substantially by service type. General practitioner, specialist physician, and physical therapy service use peaks within the 14 weeks after compensation claim lodgement, whilst the majority of mental health services were accessed in the persistent phase beyond 14 weeks after claim lodgement. Older age, being employed by small companies, and claiming compensation for mental health conditions were associated with greater duration of health service use. Conclusions Injured truck drivers access a wide range of health services during the recovery and return to work process. Delivery of mental health services is delayed, including for those making mental health compensation claims. Health service planning should take into account worker and employer characteristics in addition to injury type.
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Objective The reasons that doctors may refuse or be reluctant to treat have not been widely explored in the medical literature. To understand the ethical implications of reluctance to treat there is a need to recognise the constraints of doctors working in complex systems and to consider how these constraints may influence reluctance. The aim of this paper is to illustrate these constraints using the case of compensable injury in the Australian context. Design Between September and December 2012, a qualitative investigation involving face-to-face semistructured interviews examined the knowledge, attitudes and practices of general practitioners (GPs) facilitating return to work in people with compensable injuries. Setting Compensable injury management in general practice in Melbourne, Australia. Participants 25 GPs who were treating, or had treated a patient with compensable injury. Results The practice of clinicians refusing treatment was described by all participants. While most GPs reported refusal to treat among their colleagues in primary and specialist care, many participants also described their own reluctance to treat people with compensable injuries. Reasons offered included time and financial burdens, in addition to the clinical complexities involved in compensable injury management. Conclusions In the case of compensable injury management, reluctance and refusal to treat is likely to have a domino effect by increasing the time and financial burden of clinically complex patients on the remaining clinicians. This may present a significant challenge to an effective, sustainable compensation system. Urgent research is needed to understand the extent and implications of reluctance and refusal to treat and to identify strategies to engage clinicians in treating people with compensable injuries.
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Background: Strong evidence supports an early return to work after injury as a way to improve recovery. In Australia, General Practitioners (GPs) see about 96 % of injured workers, making them the main gatekeepers to workers' entitlements. Most people with compensable injuries in Australia are certified as "unfit to work" by their GP, with a minority of patients certified for modified work duties. The reasons for this apparent dissonance between evidence and practice remain unexplored. Little is known about the factors that influence GP sickness certification behaviour in Australia. The aim of this study is to describe the factors influencing Australian GPs certification practice through qualitative interviews with four key stakeholders. Methods: From September to December 2012, 93 semi-structured interviews were undertaken in Melbourne, Australia. Participants included GPs, injured workers, employers and compensation agents. Data were thematically analysed. Results: Five themes describing factors influencing GP certification were identified: 1. Divergent stakeholder views about the GP's role in facilitating return to work; 2. Communication between the four stakeholder groups; 3. Conflict between the stakeholder groups; 4. Allegations of GPs and injured workers misusing the compensation system and 5. The layout and content of the sickness certificate itself. Conclusion: By exploring GP certification practice from the perspectives of four key stakeholders, this study suggests that certification is an administrative and clinical task underpinned by a host of social and systemic factors. The findings highlight opportunities such as practice guideline development and improvements to the sickness certificate itself that may be targeted to improve GP sickness certification behaviour and return to work outcomes in an Australian context.
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Purpose: The aim was to analyze the role and activities of employers with regard to return to work (RTW), in local workplace practice. Method: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with sick-listed workers and their supervisors in 18 workplaces (n = 36). The analytical approach to study the role of employers in RTW was based on the three-domain model of social corporate responsibility. The model illustrates the linkage between corporations and their social environment, and consists of three areas of corporate responsibility: economic, legal and ethical. Results: Employers had difficulties in taking social responsibility for RTW, in that economic considerations regarding their business took precedence over legal and ethical considerations. Employers engaged in either "RTW activities" or "transition activities" that were applied differently depending on how valued sick-listed workers were considered to be to their business, and on the nature of the job (e.g. availability of suitable work adjustments). Conclusions: This study suggests that Swedish legislation and policies does not always adequately prompt employers to engage in RTW. There is a need for further attention to the organizational conditions for employers to take social responsibility for RTW in the context of business pressure and work intensification. Implications for Rehabilitation Employers may have difficulties in taking social responsibility for RTW when economic considerations regarding their business take precedence over legal and ethical considerations. Rehabilitation professionals should be aware of that outcomes of an RTW process can be influenced by the worker's value to the employer and the nature of the job (e.g. availability of suitable work adjustments). "Low-value" workers at workplaces with limited possibilities to offer workplace adjustments may run a high risk of dismissal. Swedish legislation and policies may need reforms to put more pressure on employers to promote RTW.
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Introduction: Healthcare providers (HCPs) are influential in the injured worker's recovery process and fulfil many roles in the delivery of health services. Interactions between HCPs and insurers can also affect injured workers' engagement in rehabilitation and subsequently their recovery and return to work. Consideration of the injured workers' perceptions and experiences as consumers of medical and compensation services can provide vital information about the quality, efficacy and impact of such systems. The aim of this systematic review was to identify and synthesize published qualitative research that focused on the interactions between injured workers, HCPs and insurers in workers' compensation systems in order to identify processes or interactions which impact injured worker recovery. Method: A search of six electronic databases for literature published between 1985 and 2012 revealed 1,006 articles. Screening for relevance identified 27 studies which were assessed for quality against set criteria. A final 13 articles of medium and high quality were retained for data extraction. Results: Findings were synthesized using a meta-ethnographic approach. Injured workers reported that HCPs could play both healing and harming roles in their recovery. Supportive patient-centred interaction with HCPs is important for injured workers. Difficult interactions between HCPs and insurers were highlighted in themes of adversarial relations and organisational pressures. Insurer and compensation system processes exerted an influence on the therapeutic relationship. Recommendations to improve relationships included streamlining administrative demands and increasing education and communication between the parties. Conclusion: Injured workers with long term complex injuries experience difficulties with healthcare in the workers' compensation context. Changes in insurer administrative demands and compensation processes could increase HCP participation and job satisfaction. This in turn may improve injured worker recovery. Further research into experiences of distinct healthcare professions with workers' compensation systems is warranted.
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Purpose: Mental health conditions (MHC) are an increasing reason for claiming injury compensation in Australia; however little is known about how these claims are managed by different gatekeepers to injury entitlements. This study, drawing on the views of four stakeholders-general practitioners (GPs), injured persons, employers and compensation agents, aims to describe current management of MHC claims and to identify the current barriers to return to work (RTW) for injured persons with a MHC claim and/or mental illness. Methods: Ninety-three in-depth interviews were undertaken with GPs, compensation agents, employers and injured persons. Data were collected in Melbourne, Australia. Thematic techniques were used to analyse data. Results: MHC claims were complex to manage because of initial assessment and diagnostic difficulties related to the invisibility of the injury, conflicting medical opinions and the stigma associated with making a MHC claim. Mental illness also developed as a secondary issue in the recovery process. These factors made MHC difficult to manage and impeded timely RTW. Conclusions: It is necessary to undertake further research (e.g. guideline development) to improve current practice in order to enable those with MHC claims to make a timely RTW. Further education and training interventions (e.g. on diagnosis and management of MHC) are also needed to enable GPs, employers and compensation agents to better assess and manage MHC claims.
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The practice of 'early return to work' before full recovery is put foward in many countries as a sensible and unproblematic approach to work injuries. However, there has been a limited appraisal of its effectiveness. Questions remain about what counts as 'effective', how early-return-to-work policy is experienced by workers, and the internal logic of this policy. In this paper, we consider these issues as they relate to the dependence of early return to work on the concept of 'hurt versus harm'; that is, the assumption that 'hurt' is pain experienced during recovery and that hurt does not necessarily impede recovery and, indeed, can improve it. Taking the case of workers' compensation policy in Ontario, Canada, we review research and documents that justify and explain the disassociation of hurt from harm in early return to work. We argue that this concept has been applied too broadly: to situations not supported by research evidence. We contrast this with qualitative interview data from a study of return-to-work problems faced by injured workers with long term workers' compensation claims. We find a lack of recognition of the nature of hurts and harms affecting these workers and suggest that a discourse about 'hurt versus harm' affects the handling of workers' compensation claims in a way that can hinder workers' ability to return to sustainable work. We propose that some long term workers' compensation claims may exist, in part, because of a framework for understanding workplace injury which under-recognises the nature, extent and impact of hurts on workers.
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Objective To explore the challenges academic FPs face when assessing patients' functional ability to return to work; to produce a detailed account of FPs' experiences and views on workplace disability management; to describe which parts of the disability assessment and management process FPs would like to modify or relinquish; and to provide solutions to streamline the overall process of assessing disability. Design Qualitative phenomenologic study using in-depth interviews. Setting A family health team located in a large urban teaching hospital in Toronto, Ont. Participants Purposive sample of 6 FPs. Methods Participants were invited to participate in 1-hour, in-depth interviews. Themes were derived from qualitative analysis of the data using a phenomenologic approach. Main findings Four themes emerged from the interviews: the FP's role in filing a compensation claim; the complexity of the patient; the FP's lack of training in occupational health; and possible solutions to improve the process of assessing the functional ability of an injured worker. Conclusion As in other areas of medicine, the role of the FP is to restore health; optimize social, psychological, and functional capabilities; and minimize the negative effects of injury. Assessing functional abilities for return to work can be challenging, as FPs are trained to focus on assessing and treating symptoms rather than on determining occupational functioning. Functional assessment forms do not provide enough information for physicians and serve as a poor communication tool among the stakeholders involved with returning an injured worker to work.
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Health care providers (HCPs) play a central role in workers' compensation systems. In most systems, they are involved in the legitimization of work-related injury, are required to provide information to workers' compensation boards about the nature and extent of the injury, give recommendations about return-to-work capability and provide treatment for injury or illness. This study identifies problems that occur at the interface between the health care system, injured workers, and workers' compensation boards (WCBs) that may complicate and extend workers' compensation claims and the mechanisms that underlie the development of these problems. Interviews were sought with injured workers, peer helpers and service providers from a variety of geographic locations in order to get a broad picture of return to work problems and concerns. This analysis includes data from total of 34 interviews with injured workers who had long term and complicated claims. Interviews were also conducted with 14 peer helpers and 21 service providers. We identified four domains related to injured workers' interface with the health care system that played a key role in complicating and prolonging compensation claims. These problems, related to health care access, conflicting or imperfect medical knowledge, limited understanding of compensation system requirements and confusion about decision-making authority, resulted in frustration, financial difficulties and mental health problems for injured workers. Recommendations are made about how compensation system parties can find better ways to serve injured worker health care needs and facilitate a smooth relationship between the compensation board and HCPs.
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The usual search for explanations and solutions for the research-practice gap tends to analyze ways to communicate evidence-based practice guidelines to practitioners more efficiently and effectively from the end of a scientific pipeline. This examination of the pipeline looks upstream for ways in which the research itself is rendered increasingly irrelevant to the circumstances of practice by the process of vetting the research before it can qualify for inclusion in systematic reviews and the practice guidelines derived from them. It suggests a 'fallacy of the pipeline' implicit in one-way conceptualizations of translation, dissemination and delivery of research to practitioners. Secondly, it identifies a 'fallacy of the empty vessel' implicit in the assumptions underlying common characterizations of the practitioner as a recipient of evidence-based guidelines. Remedies are proposed that put emphasis on participatory approaches and more practice-based production of the research and more attention to external validity in the peer review, funding, publication and systematic reviews of research in producing evidence-based guidelines.
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Researchers and health policy analysts in Washington State set out to determine the extent to which administrative process changes and delivery system interventions within workers' compensation affect quality and health outcomes for injured workers. This research included a pilot project to study the effects of providing occupationally focused health care through managed care arrangements on health outcomes, worker and employer satisfaction, and medical and disability costs. Based on the results, a new initiative was developed to incorporate several key delivery system components. The Washington State experience in developing a quality improvement initiative may have relevance for health care clinicians, administrators, policymakers, and researchers engaged in similar pursuits within the general medical care arena.
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Repetition strain injury (RSI), a non-specific and controversial constellation of work-related hand, arm and neck symptoms, became epidemic in Australian industry in the early 1980s. Fifty-two women who worked in a telecommunications organisation and a chicken processing factory and had been diagnosed as having RSI were interviewed about their perceptions and experiences of the illness. Their accounts of the search for caring and treatment, including their encounter with health and medical practitioners, suggest that the need to be believed and to establish their integrity dominated their 'pilgrimage'. The failure of the dominant explanations of RSI to accommodate the psychosocial and political dimensions of the illness thwarted this quest and, it is argued, contributed to its chronicity.
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To determine obstacles for return-to-work in disability management of low back pain patients sicklisted for 3-4 months. A cohort of 467 low back pain patients sicklisted for 3-4 months was recruited. A questionnaire was sent to their occupational physicians (OPs) concerning the medical management, obstacles to return-to-work, and the communication with treating physicians. The OPs of 300 of 467 patients participated in this study. In many cases OPs regarded the clinical waiting period (43%), duration of treatment (41%), and view (25%) of the treating physicians as obstacles for return-to-work. Psychosocial obstacles for return-to-work such as mental blocks, a lack of job motivation, personal problems, and conflicts at work were all mentioned much less frequently by OPs. In only 19% of the patients was there communication between OP and treating physician. Communication almost always entailed an exchange of information, and less frequently an attempt to harmonise the management policy. Surprisingly communication was also limited, when OPs felt that the waiting period (32%), duration of treatment (30%), and view (28%) of treating physicians inhibited return-to-work. Communication was significantly associated with the following obstacles for return-to-work: passivity with regard to return-to-work and clinical waiting period; adjusted odds ratios were 3.35 and 2.23, respectively. Medical management of treating physicians is often an obstacle for return to work regarding low back pain patients sicklisted for 3-4 months, in the opinion of OPs. Nevertheless communication between OPs and the treating physicians in disability management of these patients is limited. More attention to prevention of absenteeism and bilateral communication is needed in medical courses.
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One of the key players in the return-to-work (RTW) and work accommodation process is the healthcare provider (HCP). This study examines the association between RTW approximately one month post injury and early, proactive HCP communication with the patient and workplace. In this cross-sectional study 187 Ontario workers completed a telephone survey 17-43 days post injury. All had accepted or pending lost-time claims for back, neck or upper extremity occupational musculoskeletal injuries. Logistic regression was used to analyze the effects of three self-reported items "your HCP told you the date you could RTW," "your HCP advised you on how to prevent re-injury or recurrence," "your HCP made contact with your workplace" on self-reported RTW. Fourteen potential confounders were also tested in the model including sex, age, income, education, occupational classification, worksite size, co-morbidity, psycho-physical work demands, pain, job satisfaction, depression, and time from injury to interview. The HCP giving a patient a RTW date (adjusted OR=3.33, 95% CI=1.62-6.87) and giving a patient guidance on how to prevent recurrence and re-injury (adjusted OR=2.71, 95% CI=1.24-5.95) were positively associated with an early RTW. Contact by the HCP with the workplace was associated with RTW, however, this association became weaker upon adjusting for confounding variables (crude OR=2.11, 95% C1=1.09-4.09; adjusted OR=1.72, 95% CI=0.83-3.58). Our study lends support to the HCP playing an active role early in the RTW process, one that includes direct contact with the workplace and proactive communication with the patient.
Distrusting doctors’ evidence: a qualitative study of disability income support policy makers in Australia and Ontario, Canada
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McAllister, A., & Leeder, S.R. (2017). Distrusting doctors' evidence: a qualitative study of disability income support policy makers in Australia and Ontario, Canada. Australian Health Review.
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