How We Talk to Injured Workers

                               

One of the most amazing people I have ever stumbled upon while hiring adjusters over the years was a woman who previously worked for Medicaid. She was one of the most communicative people I had encountered. She explained it stemmed from working with people who did not understand the system in which they needed benefits.

Done. Come work for us!

Desiree Brown, this article is dedicated to you and your amazing ability to make people feel seen, heard, and acknowledged. From all the injured workers you were able to provide consumable information to with empathy and understanding, the utmost of thanks.

Communicating with Injured Workers

How we speak to injured workers, and how we train people to communicate with injured workers tends to fall by the wayside due to jurisdictional language and statutes. We as an industry fail to recognize we are speaking to injured human beings who are full of fear of the unknown. We rattle off jurisdictional guidelines and qualified benefits, seldom checking for understanding or even walking people through the process. We fail to listen, we fail to acknowledge, and we fail to learn the pain points for the injured human on the other line. Failing to learn the pain points causes disconnections right and left and ultimately, an adversarial relationship.

What if we changed how we talk to people? What if we really started listening and focusing on what matters to the injured human on the other end of the telephone line? What if we listened for pain points and addressed them, whether it be related to employment or psychosocial issues, or medical concerns? What if we really listened as humans and did the best we could from there? What would the industry look like?

Here is an idea. Let us start by setting an appropriate stage. At the first telephone call, leave a voice mail, because no one answers phone calls these days, in a friendly tone. Hello! My name is Claire. I would like to introduce myself as the adjuster who is going to help you on the road to recovery as I hear you were injured at work. I understand right now may not be the best time to reach you and so I will try you again at 4pm today. If this time does not work for you, please feel free to text me back with a convenient time to reach you and I will make sure to do my best to call you during that time. I look forward to working with you and hope you are doing as well as possible. Thank you!

Setting the stage is imperative. When the initial calls are made to injured workers, there could be a lot going on in their lives and they may be unable to be mentally present to take a recorded statement or digest a plethora of information. Set the stage so the injured worker is ready to give you their undivided attention and then they can ask whatever questions they need to better understand the system.

It is 2021. If you are not texting, it is time to figure something out. By 2030, 76% of the workforce will be made up of Millennial and Gen Z. Set the stage to let injured workers know when you will be calling so they answer the phone!

Once connected to an injured worker, start by asking How are you? Really listen. If they respond with a one-word answer, ask again, No really, how are you? You can do a lot during this time to establish a human connection and see what is troubling an injured worker if you stop and listen. Actively listen and reflectively listen. Look, I have been an adjuster. I understand the robotic nature of getting to your script so you can obtain your recorded statement and move on, but this is the dawn of a new era, and we are changing the workers’ compensation landscape. What you do during this time is not only critical, but also crucial to build rapport, trust, and understanding.

After you have given space for the injured worker to tell you how they are feeling, explain who you are and your role. I would like to introduce myself to you. My name is Claire, and I am going to be the adjuster who helps you on the road to recovery from your work injury. How you phrase who you are and what you are here to do sets the tone for the conversation to come. Add value to who you are with explaining I will be your contact for any needs that arise concerning your workers’ compensation injury. Remember, you are working with an injured human who is not a claim, not a number, but a human being. Talk to them. While you are handling their ‘claim,’ this injury is life-changing, even if for the short term and it will impact the days ahead. Do not devalue their feelings by stating I am here to handle your claim. It is more than simply a ‘claim’ to the person who has been injured.

Building the Relationship

As you continue your discussion, empathize with the injured worker to build rapport. Being injured at work is never a pleasurable experience. Acknowledging that it is not a fun experience or a desirable one establishes an “I see you, I hear you, You matter” mentality. I realize that, and intend to do everything I can to assist you and provide support during this difficult time. We will work together as a team to get you back to life, and back to work. Emphasizing the bigger picture by focusing on life, coupled with supportive help during this time reiterates that the injured worker is not in this alone. There is a lot of fear and uncertainty during the initial stages that can be easily addressed by establishing clear roles and responsibilities. Ensuring you are a team to get through this can help the uncertainty ahead.

Medical/Indemnity Benefits

Before running through the recorded statement, start by explaining the benefits an injured party qualifies for based upon your specific state or jurisdiction. To help you start the journey to recovery, I will work with you to make sure your medical care is easily obtainable and beneficial to you. Many times, people entering the workers’ compensation system have no idea how the medical benefits work. Some states have direction of medical care while other states allow for injured workers to choose. Acknowledging that the care should not be an inconvenience is helpful and we all want the best outcomes for the injured workers’ we interact with – regardless of what the attorneys on TV commercials say. Addressing this at the beginning can help alleviate inconsistenies in the messaging put out into different mediums. It is our goal for you to receive the best care possible. Your best outcome is my priority.

Once you have covered the medical benefits an injured worker qualifies for under workers’ compensation, it is time to discuss indemnity benefits. I realize that you may or could be suffering a financial loss during this recovery time. While we do not have any control over an injured workers’ finances, understanding the fear that comes from not knowing when their next paycheck will arrive or where it will come from is important so you must be able to articulate how indemnity benefits work in this space. This can cause stress to you and on other aspects of your life. This shows empathy that you understand the impact financial uncertainty has with the injured worker and the impact to their family. Due to this, I intend to be here for you, and provide compensation during this difficult time to help reduce this stress. Lost time payments are referred to as indemnity payments. These benefits are made based upon calculations determined by the state of (x). I want to make sure you understand how the calculations are determined and will walk through these with you. Make sure to follow up on this if you choose not to elaborate during this conversation. Showing the injured worker the wages you are using, how they were obtained, and the manner in which you calculated through Zoom or another method of sharing, then via email, and verbally will help ensure there have been multiple methods of communication for understanding. This also allows the injured worker to ask questions or present any potential discrepancies you may be unaware of from the employer.

Explain how the injured worker will receive their funds and the frequency of their payments. I will have your lost wage checks issued weekly while you are recovering. You will have the option of a paper check, or we can schedule through ACH if that is of interest to you. Providing the options allows for the injured worker to determine what they are comfortable with and gives them a choice. So many components of the workers’ compensation system do not allow choices for the injured worker, and this is a time you can provide them options so they can choose what is best for them. I will provide you notice weekly when these checks are issued for your peace of mind. Send the injured worker a text or an email notifying them that their check has been issued. It takes about 15 seconds to type it out in addition to creating an avenue for you to check in with how they are doing. If you are not doing this, I highly suggest you start. It makes a big impact!! If you believe my calculation to be incorrect or question the amount, please let me know so we can discuss and determine if corrections are needed. We are all human and mistakes can be made. Addressing any issues on the front end lets the injured worker know you are not there to cause economic suffering. Ask them to notify you if anything seems off. Getting this addressed on the front end is much easier than causing an adversarial relationship that could move into litigation.

Additional Issues

While discussing indemnity benefits, this is a great time to be up front about mileage for the jurisdiction. This is another way to put an injured worker at ease. It is a benefit injured workers qualify for under workers’ compensation, and discussing it up front shows you are being transparent. I am aware some organizations do not encourage the sharing of this state-mandated benefit; however, be the change and be up front with the injured worker. It is not only the right thing to do, but also a statutory benefit. I also want you to let you know you will be reimbursed for mileage to and from your medical appointments. I am happy to send you a mileage sheet or you can keep track on your own to email me when it is convenient for you. Let the injured worker choose their cadence to submit. Again, provide choices where you are able.

Just as letting the injured worker know to contact you if any of the financial benefits seem off, it is imperative to communicate what to do if they receive a medical bill! If you receive a medical bill pertaining to your injury, please notify me immediately. The bill most likely was sent to you in error and I do not want you to have unnecessary stress. We have all encountered times where workers’ compensation information is entered as an additional component to the injured workers’ personal health insurance profile. Billing can get mixed up and we do not wish to have the injured worker sent to a collections agency. We do not know what we do not know and therefore, we need to encourage injured workers to communicate with us when they receive a medical bill. I will do my best to make sure all your medical bills pertaining to your injury are sent to me for handling. I do want to reiterate, should any bill be sent to you, please let me know so I can handle it for you.

During this conversation, explain how the injured worker can reach you if they have issues. There will be times when you have a question for me and there may be times I have questions for you. When you have questions, please feel free to reach out to me. My office hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Friday. If I am not available, please leave me a message or feel free to text me at this number. You can also email me, and I will respond to you as soon as I can. Provide multiple ways an injured worker can reach you so they can use whatever is most comfortable for them. If you have a portal you can reference, this would be a great time to explain that as well. What does an injured worker due if they cannot reach you? Is there a backup system? If I am not available and you need to speak with someone immediately, please call the Customer Service Team at (xxx) xxx-xxxx and they will be able to direct you to an available team member of mine for assistance.

Reiterate your role in this process. I promise to be courteous, prompt, available, and understanding during this vulnerable time. We are working with injured human beings who may be experiencing one of the worst moments of their lives. Be the light during this dark time for them. Do you have any questions or concerns currently? I want to make your recovery as easy and as smooth as possible for you. Give space for the injured worker to ask questions and tell you what makes them uneasy. Take the time now to ease their concerns. Spending the time building this relationship on the front end will make the process flow so much more efficiently with communication and rapport.

Spend the time. It matters. YOU can change so much in the workers’ compensation space by simply taking the time to care. Start now, start today, start with you. Be the change!

By Dr. Claire Muselman

Dr. Claire Muselman is a workers' compensation enthusiast (and Vice President at North American Risk Services).


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