One of the most perplexing problems in workers’ comp is delayed recovery, or relatively minor claims that become long-term, costly claims. Often the claims go unnoticed until significant dollars are spent on procedures, surgeries, and medications for an injury that should have healed long ago. While these claims may only represent 6 – 10% of all claims, they can consume 80 percent or more of medical and indemnity resources, according to Integrated Medical Case Solutions.
Yet, if identified early, proper intervention prevents the delayed recovery. Research suggests that psychosocial factors play a large role in these “creeping catastrophic claims.”
Pioneers of diagnosing and treating injured workers with psychosocial risk factors, Michael Coupland, the CEO and Network Medical Director of Integrated Medical Case Solutions, and Steven Litton developed a simple pain screening questionnaire (PSQ). Though widely used in Canada and several other countries, it is just starting to catch on with the U.S. workers’ compensation system, according to an article in Property Casualty 360°.
It includes ten questions or statements related to the injured worker’s pain attitudes, beliefs and perceptions, which the injured worker rates on a scale of 1 to 10. The article notes that one of Coupland’s favorite questions is ‘I should not do my normal work with this amount of pain,’ which gives insight into work attitudes, catastrophic thinking, and fear-avoidance behavior.
Physicians focus on the pain and physical diagnosis and prescribe MRIs, tests, surgeries, and even opioids. Costs escalate with little relief of pain. The underlying psychosocial factors go untreated and include:
- Catastrophic thinking – or OMG! Thoughts. Despite the injury or illness, people believe they are beyond the ability to recover.
- Fear avoidance. Workers are so concerned about further injuries, they avoid doing anything that might exacerbate the pain.
- Anger and perceived injustice. Regardless of how long someone has worked at their company, they feel a disservice has been done to them.
- External focus of control. Workers rely on their medical providers and others to fix them, rather than taking any responsibility for their own recovery.
Since 2013, Albertsons Safeway has used the test to determine the risk level of delayed recovery, giving it to all injured workers with indemnity claims two weeks post injury. According to a blog post by the IMCS Group, the average amount paid per claim rose exponentially with risk level. Looking at data from the 2013 – 2015:
|Risk Level||# of Injured Workers||Average Amount Paid|
The injured workers who scored high or very high were given the opportunity to undergo cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). About half agreed to do so. Unlike traditional psychotherapy, CBT is brief. The goal is for injured workers to cope with their pain, rather than be cured of it.
The blog post, Early CBT Intervention Changes Lives, Saves Money for WC Payers, explains the company created three groups of injured workers that had scored as high-risk on the PSQ to test the effectiveness of the CBT intervention. One group that participated in the CBT program; a second group that chose not to participate; and a third group of injured workers that had not been offered CBT.
Here are the results:
|Group||Average Total Paid|
|Participated in CBT||$36,629|
|Did not participate||$44,356|
|Were not referred to CBT||$73,488|
Those who engaged in CBT returned to work much sooner than those in either of the other two groups. According to an Albertsons Safeway representative, the program resulted in an estimated 30 percent reduction in total claims cost.
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