Case Management Focus: Tools for Return to Work

23 Jan, 2024 Anne Llewellyn


Sarasota, FL ( -- In last week’s post, I discussed the importance of a Job Analysis when preparing an injured worker to return to work. The job analysis provides many answers that doctors, therapists, case managers, and vocational specialists need when working with an injured worker.

In this post, I wanted to discuss a few other tools to assist workers return to gainful employment. We know that everyone may not be able to go back to their original job due to their injury and restrictions, but most people can return to some work with the help of the following:

+ A good rehabilitation program where the therapists are specialized in workers' compensation.
+ A supportive family.
+ An employer willing to provide light duty or modify the job to meet the injured worker's restrictions after a work injury.
+ A supportive and welcoming workforce for injured workers as they re-enter the workforce.
+ A coordinated team of professionals all working in the same direction. Examples include the workers' compensation case manager, the claims adjustor, vocational specialists, and others involved.
+ Today, advances in rehabilitation have paved the way for physicians, therapists, and other healthcare professionals to meet an injured worker's many needs. Here are some examples:

--> Functional capacity evaluation (FCE). An FCE is a set of tests to identify a person's physical skills, functional capabilities, activity endurance, and work tolerance. The FCE is a 6-to-8-hour evaluation done over two days by an occupational or physical therapist.
--> Work simulation mirrors the actual work setting to help injured workers do the work they will need to do when they return to work. They must know how to perform the job duties of a specific job safely. A simulated work environment is utilized to provide recommendations regarding the injured worker’s ability to return to work safely, with restrictions, or the need for accommodations to return to work safely.
--> Some employers bring therapists to the actual worksite to assist all workers in various ways to prevent an injury. This is an ideal situation as it is a preventative and restorative program.
--> Work Hardening Program: Work hardening and work conditioning programs are often used to assist the injured worker in improving and preventing re-injuries once the worker returns to work. Having a program that helps them exercise and keeps them in shape can continue the healing process and make the injured worker more functional.
--> Educating the employer and other employees about the importance of following the plan of care is essential. The employer can help explain to the workforce who work with the injured worker that light duty and restrictions are important for the injured worker’s recovery. They are not meant to give someone an easy ride but to help return them to work. Some employees may look at the injured worker in getting a break, which makes them work harder.
--> Employees should be educated that the same would be done for them if injured.

Explaining the various tools we have to identify and improve the injured worker's ability to return to work should be discussed with the patient so they know they have hope and can fully participate in the return-to-work program.

If there are issues, sometimes an injured worker may need a psychologist for a few sessions to help them work through issues that might hold them back. Being injured on the job can cause issues like post-traumatic stress and make the injured worker fearful to go back to work. Addressing issues early will help the injured worker know that it is possible to work again.

Having the injured worker involved in the plan of care allows them to have ownership and control over their bodies, which is sometimes lost when a work injury occurs.

If you are a new workers compensation nurse case manager or need a refresher on the tools to help return an injured worker to gainful employment, talk to the various therapists who work with the patient. They can be a wealth of information as you work with injured workers. They will help you understand the various tools to help you and the team safely return injured workers to work.

Questions or comments, email me at

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    About The Author

    • Anne Llewellyn

      Anne Llewellyn is a registered nurse with over forty years of experience in critical care, risk management, case management, patient advocacy, healthcare publications and training and development. Anne has been a leader in the area of Patient Advocacy since 2010. She was a Founding member of the Patient Advocate Certification Board and is currently serving on the National Association of Health Care Advocacy. Anne writes a weekly Blog, Nurse Advocate to share stories and events that will educate and empower people be better prepared when they enter the healthcare system.

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