"Curing" Work Disability….


“Work Disability”….a new term to you?  A term you’ve just recently heard used?  Or a condition that you’re a subject matter expert in?

If you have a role - any role - in a workers’ compensation system, you should be striving for the latter.  Understanding work disability, what it is and how to prevent it, is critical to claims and medical management, and to identifying appropriate non-clinical interventions to improve return-to-work outcomes. 

Why are you just hearing about “work disability”?  Those of us who’ve worked with people injured on the job have known work disability, but the condition wasn’t really named until 2013.  How many relatively minor injuries have you seen that became long-term, complex cases?  How often do we hear that medical interventions and surgeries in workers’ compensation result in longer duration and more permanent disability than the outcomes for non-work injury cases?  What’s the cause?  Poor medical treatment specific to workers’ comp?  That’s silly.  Doctors don’t perform better or worse, depending on which systems or insurers are involved. 

The problem is “work disability,” as described by Loisel and Anema in the 2013 Handbook of Work Disability Prevention and Management: occurs “when a worker is unable to stay at work or return to work because of an injury or disease.  Work disability is the result of a decision by a worker who for potential physical, psychological, social, administrative, or cultural reasons does not return to work.  While the worker may want to return to work, he or she feels incapable of returning to normal working life.  Therefore, after the triggering accident or disease has activate a work absence, various determinants can influence some workers to remain temporarily out of the workplace, while others return, and others may finally not return to work at all.”

On August 4, WorkersCompensation.com is sponsoring a webinar for a panel of the IAIABC’s Work Disability Prevention and Return-to-Work Committee to discuss their recently published “How-to Guide.”  This guide provides tools and approaches for various stakeholders to reduce unnecessary work disability in workers’ compensation systems.  Take a little time out of your day to learn more about this important topic.  Registration is free and can be completed at this link: click here.

By the way, this is my first of what I hope are many “Expert’s View” articles for WorkersCompensation.com.  Watch for more from me about work disability, vocational recovery through a worker centric approach, and other lessons I’ve learned as I near my completion of 50 years in the industry.  My articles won’t be long.  None of us have time to for lengthy pontifications (Bob Wilson’s blog being the exception, of course…)

By Vickie Kennedy

Vickie Kennedy is the Assistant Director for Insurance Services at Washington State’s Department of Labor and Industries, a role she’s held since April, 2013.  She currently sits on the Board of Directors for the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC) and chairs the IAIABC's Work Disability Prevention and Return to Work Committee.  In 2020, Vickie joined other national workers’ compensation experts on the Advisory Council for the Workers’ Compensation Benchmarking Study. 

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