By Mark Pew, Senior VP, Preferred Medical
This week I want to share two articles about recovering from an illness or injury. The first article lists five myths many employers may have about returning to work after a disability and how it affects their company. The second is written from the viewpoint of a physical therapist and what she has learned in her first year of school that can be applied to everyone’s unique situation. Below you’ll find these articles and my thoughts on their implications.
This article shares an example of a 58 year-old man who needed a hip replacement. With the help of his employer and a smooth transition getting back to work, he returned just 8 weeks after his surgery—40 days earlier than expected. Many employers, HR professionals and benefits experts have a lot of misconceptions about return-to-work programs, but it can truly impact the bottom line.
Even though this is not written from a work comp perspective, there are important tidbits included for ANYBODY returning to work (RTW) that leads to them staying at work (SAW). “Carl’s transition back to work over a 14-day period got him back on the job 40 days earlier than expected, based on initial estimated date … Having a return-to-work program where employees feel valued impacts the morale of the whole team, boosting productivity.” I especially like the tips they offered: Communicate early and often; Be flexible; Be welcoming; Focus on the job, not the illness or injury; Be creative. Since I can’t say it any better, I’m just going to include verbatim a more detailed analysis of what works (and doesn’t) from my friend (and RTW expert) Jason Parker (he mentions “Carl” – you’ll need to read the article for full context):
“Mark, good article and thanks for posting. I have always said RTW is RTW is RTW regardless of who is paying. The only constraints are the ‘system’ they are in not the process of returning to work. I would like to add some additional insights we have had. We have identified 3 different personas of workers and have some data (anecdotal, qualitative, AND quantitative) to support these findings. One of these groups tends to RTW sooner than expected or on-time. This group has certain characteristics that we have mapped out: they want and/or need to RTW – strong desire/intention, are proactive, problem solve, have positive expectations of RTW, have few concerns about RTW, are active participants and self advocates. What we found is you need to get out of their way, make it easy for them to RTW, and then they DO RTW. This is awesome. The downside….??? These are not the ones you are worried about. They tend to find a way back to work regardless. The other 2 personas we have uncovered lack these characteristics, are at risk of unnecessary work disability, and need to be activated. They tend to need more interventions to deal with the work disability problem.”
“Part 2 – Don’t get me wrong. The suggestions in the article are solid for sure. It is just that the Carl’s of the world are not the claims we all struggle with, complain about, and wonder why they are NOT returning to work despite the suggestions. Work disability is a separate condition, with its own set of causes, and own set of interventions. Work Disability is tenacious and unforgiving if left to its own. Our success is identifying the CAUSES of the work disability (read: NOT medical, most likely psychosocial AND behavioral) and intervening with the appropriate interventions.”
“I look at from this perspective ‘RTW can be conceptualized as a complex human behavior change’. And that we should treat RTW not as an outcome but as a goal. For me this is a game changer. My job is to facilitate the change required to select RTW as a goal and walk the non-Carls of the world through the same steps that Carl just did on his own. Carl didn’t just RTW by chance. The support he had from his employer was VERY important and I don’t want to diminish the role of the employer as they have the second most significant role in this process. But the lead role HAS to belong to the worker. Working on this premise, I can work with the non-Carls uncover the missing components that Carl had in place, help them discover those factors and that is when we see change take place. It is a combination of Motivation planning, work disability risk factor identification, and Action Planning. It is drawing from the works of giants in the fields of motivation science, goal attainment theory, work disability research, solution focused techniques. Then you have a MAP for recovery and RTW. It is a very deliberate process.”
A physical therapist wrote this article outlining the five most important things she learned during her first year in physical therapy school. While this is what she learned in relation to physical therapy, she also points out that all are important lessons that can be applied to people’s every day lives. The main takeaway is that no two people are exactly the same—our bodies are complex. This means everyone’s treatment and path back to health will be different as well.
Five great points from a physical therapist:
- “It always depends: When it comes to physical therapy, perhaps the most important thing to realize is that everybody is different. No 2 people are exactly alike and for that reason, no 2 patients can be treated exactly the same.”
- “Progress is never linear: I was reminded time and time again that progress takes time, effort, dedication, and possibly most importantly to note, your progress is going to look like a really windy road map.”
- “#WordsMatter: How a therapist communicates with their patients sets the foundation for how successful or unsuccessful treatment will be.”
- “The More I Learn, the Less I Know: Hungry to learn more, help more, and to be better each and every day.”
And, last but not least, “Movement Is Medicine.” Or how I’ve phrased it (thanks to Mel Pohl) for the past few years…Motion is Lotion. I think this physical therapist’s words can actually relate to almost every other clinician. And patient. And everyone in between. In the “instant gratification” world we now live in, we expect everything to happen overnight in predictable ways. As I have matured, I have realized that the world is not binary (black or white, true or false) but mostly multi-factorial (gray, maybe) and that good things do indeed come to those that wait (or, better said, have patience). It’s about coming into a situation with the proper expectations, doing what’s uniquely necessary for each individual, and then being willing to live with the results. So whether you’re a clinician or not, take heed to the lessons learned listed above and see how they might apply to your own unique situation.
To read everything on my mind this past week, please visit me on LinkedIn.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed above are those of Mark Pew, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Preferred Medical.
About Mark Pew
Mark Pew, Senior Vice President of Product Development and Marketing for Preferred Medical, is a passionate educator and agitator. Known as the RxProfessor, Mark is focused on the intersection of chronic pain and appropriate treatment, particularly as it relates to the clinical and financial implications of prescription painkillers, non-pharma treatment modalities and the evolution of medical marijuana. He is a strong champion for the workers’ compensation industry to #PreventTheMess and #CleanUpTheMess, movements he created to drive attention to the importance of individualized appropriate treatment for injured workers. Mark is a vocal advocate of the BioPsychoSocialSpiritual treatment model.
Mark serves on the IAIABC’s Medical Issues Committee and SIIA’s Workers’ Compensation Committee. In addition, he serves as technical advisor to regulators and legislators in 20+ jurisdictions on subjects such as drug formularies, treatment guidelines, Opioid Task Force initiatives, encouraging support of non-pharma treatment options and the medicinal use of cannabis. Mark received the WorkCompCentral Magna Comp Laude award in 2016 and the IAIABC’s Samuel Gompers Award in 2017.