Why don't we just "get on with it"?

We know that recovery and return to work rates are more impressive when identified and managed early on. KRISTIN TINKER explores why claims get off track and what early intervention strategies could prevent this.

In the world of workplace injury and rehabilitation, we have all spoken about the importance of early intervention for people who experience an injury.

We know that recovery and return to work rates are more impressive when identified and managed early on, and people quite often generally have a more positive experience with the whole process.

Why is it then that the legal framework within which we work- regardless of state or scheme, requires people to “prove” how injured they areand inadvertently discourage people from taking active steps towards help seeking behaviours to overcome their injury/illness? Surely this is counterproductive to the larger aim of getting people well again, and back to work… Early!

We often see claimants so focused on the process of liability determination for their claim- attending independent assessments (sometimes multiple times) and generally trying to prove how “sick” they are. They frequent their GPs to complete endless reams of paperwork to support their diagnosis and subsequent incapacity. They become involved in the downward spiral of assessment, diagnosis, incapacity and blame. Getting struck in a cycle of negative emotion, often makes an early recovery more challenging.

There is no doubt that insurers and employers have attempted to overcome the liability focus for claimants by trying to undertake this part of the process in a timely manner, and they are often very good at encouraging early intervention. They attempt to focus on encouraging help seeking behaviours, such as early attendance at treatment, early involvement in rehabilitation and the identification of suitable workplace duties.

It is disappointing however that our guiding framework – the law - makes the process of recovery often so difficult for claimants. The overall process requires their time, energy, commitment and focus to get vindication for what they increasing feel they are “entitled to”. It encourages someone to adopt a sick role, and prove how they have become unwell because of someone else’s actions (or lack of). This is likely why recovery rates from mental health or psychological injury are more prolonged when someone is imbedded within a compensation scheme as opposed to recovery outside of a compensation environment.

The most successful return to work initiatives that we are involved with are often with self insured organisations, who have proactive injury management strategies that truly encourage early intervention. Long before an employee begins to attribute blame towards their employer for “making” them unwell, these organisations have identified early on that someone is not coping, had a conversation, actively supported them to attend their GP, and allowed them the flexibility to attend treatment and do whatever it is they need to become well again. They reimburse for expenses, and they also continue to pay their employee’s wage- not under sick leave or annual leave entitlements, but under “special leave”- the parameters of which are determined for each individual case. All of this is done often without any mention of compensation, claim forms, blame, or liability. It is truly early intervention.

This approach fosters a consultative, caring and collaborative platform for injury management and recovery to build from. Rather than placing their time and emotional energy into the liability determination process, these employees are often focussing their energy towards positive helpseeking behaviours- such as attending treatment for their condition. They enjoy a more collaborative relationship with their employer, who they see as truly wanting to help them, rather than experiencing an adversarial approach to proving illness and disability.

It is unfortunate therefore that our legislation is not more geared towards real early intervention- to encourage people to begin getting better rather than making them prove how unwell they are first. Maybe one day it will be law to “just get on with it” and help people get back on track rather than getting bogged down in what is often perceived as an adversarial and draining process.

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