Sports Medicine Speeds Return Of Workers To The Job
When rehabilitating injured workers, its been found that the same principles that lead to successful recoveries for athletes can be applied in the workplace.
There is a common misconception that the preferred treatment for most musculoskeletal injuries, especially work-related injuries, consists of medication to dull the pain and rest to recuperate and promote healing.
While rest and anti-inflammatory medicines have a place, research shows this passive treatment plan has ill effects, and may in fact be somewhat detrimental to the progress of healing and safe return to a pre-injury condition.
The concept of active treatment is best demonstrated and most well known in athletics.
Most of us have observed an injured player on the field, and the rapid response of the medical team. Treatment begins immediately, and continues with a focused goal of a safe and timely return to activity.
This same goal has gained increased focus from employers. Employers today are prepared to assume a more active role in the treatment and rehabilitation process when an injury does occur.
Rehabilitation of workplace injuries presents challenges for the injured worker, the employer, the payer and medical providers. With most employers, there is a dual system of health care–group health programs, which provide for non-occupational medicine services, and workers compensation for the occupational medicine services.
Under non-occupational medicine group health programs, the cost drivers are only the actual medical services delivered.
In the workers comp model, the actual cost of the medical care provided is only one of the cost drivers that contribute to the total cost of the case. It is estimated that up to 80% of the total cost results from length of time out of work, indemnity and wage replacement costs, and administrative costs.
Under this cost model, total cost becomes time-dependent for the duration of the case, as well as service-dependent with time being a truly variable cost.
Occupational health programs have been designed to treat injuries immediately, focus on return-to-work, and reduce the risk of re-injury. Employers, in short, understand that to remain competitive they must control the playing field. This is accomplished, in part, by caring for their star athletes–their employees.
Taking a sports medicine approach to treat workplace injuries has proven to be far more effective than simple bed rest and medications. Success of this model requires that four basic principles be in place:
Principle 1: A team approach among the team physician, therapist, injured athlete and coaches is required to achieve the goal of a timely return to activity for the athlete.
In the workers comp arena, the occupational medicine physician fills the role of “team physician.” The uniquely qualified occupational medicine physicians role is to evaluate and treat patients in the context of specific demands of the workplace.
Employers have a prime opportunity to reduce injured workers lost time from work merely by sending them to physicians skilled in occupational health care issues where they will receive prompt and effective treatment.