Friday, September 08, 2006

Assessing Fitness for Duty

When injured workers should return to work ...

"A state-sponsored occupational health program is teaching Washington doctors and employers how to get injured workers back on the job.

Assessing fitness for duty is one of the most important aspects of safely returning injured employees to work.

Determining when an injured employee can rejoin the work force, and in what capacity, is a cornerstone of a new program launched in three Eastern Washington counties by the state's Department of Labor & Industries (L&I).

A University of Washington (UW) study of the Eastern Washington Center of Occupational Health and Education (COHE) found injured workers treated by doctors enrolled in the center had less disability and lower medical costs, saving the state workers' compensation system an average of $447 per claim.

The study tracked 7,162 injured workers treated by physicians enrolled in the Spokane-based COHE between June 2004 and July 2005 and compared their outcomes to workers with similar injuries who weren't treated by a COHE doctor. Workers with back problems, in particular, had better outcomes. In all, the study found the program saved the workers' compensation system about $3.1 million.

In some ways, the results are similar to what UW found a year ago when it studied the Center for Occupational Health and Education sponsored by Valley Medical Center in Renton. UW found the Renton center saved an average of $566 per claim, with total savings of nearly $5.6 million on 10,000 claims.

"Employers who don't have light-duty work are the most common barrier to the program," says Diana Drylie, MHE, COHE project director. With appropriate treatment, good communication between all parties (worker, employer and doctor), an accurate assessment of fitness for duty and light- or modified-duty jobs when necessary, "there is a very real possibility of reducing long-term disability," she adds."   (Continued via Occupational Hazards)   [Usability Resources]

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