Determining the risks of delayed recovery

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
Low 1,031 $2,059
Low-Moderate 307 $10,759
Moderate 145 $21,783
High 192 $26,212
Very High 148 $39,967

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.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Top reasons for serious workplace injuries and large workers’ comp losses

Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index

Produced annually, the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index identifies the leading causes of the most disabling non-fatal workplace injuries (resulting in six or more days of lost time) and ranks them by total Workers’ Compensation costs. The top five causes that accounted for 68.9% of the total injuries occurring in 2015 (most recent data available) were: 1) overexertion involving outside source, 2) falls to lower level, 3) falls to same level, 4) struck by object or equipment, and 5) other exertions or bodily reactions.

For the fourth consecutive year, overexertion involving outside sources topped the list, accounting for almost a quarter of the losses, at $13.7 billion per year. This event category includes injuries related to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying, or throwing objects. Rounding out the top ten are: roadway incidents involving motorized land vehicle, slip or trip without a fall, caught in or compressed by equipment or object, struck against equipment or object, and repetitive motions involving micro-tasks.

These top ten accounted for $52 billion a year in medical and lost wage costs for businesses. While the number of injuries decreased 1.5 percent, the costs increased 2.9 percent. The total cost of all disabling injuries and illnesses was nearly $60 billion per year.

Combined with your company’s worker injury data, the information can help prioritize preventive measures and training needs.

 

Safety National review of high cost claims

When one thinks about high cost workers’ comp claims, it’s natural to focus on catastrophic claims. These claims include severe burns, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and significant amputations, which are devastating for all involved. According to Safety National’s claims data, five accident causes accounted for 86% of our catastrophic injury claims:

  • 24% – Motor Vehicle Accident
  • 24% – Fall
  • 20% – Struck By
  • 10% – Act of Crime
  • 8% – Burn

Yet, the recent review of Safety National’s large loss claims by Mark Walls, Vice President of Communications & Strategic Analysis, and Stephen Peacock, Assistant Vice President – Claims, found there were significantly more “developmental” claims that crossed the $1 million threshold, used to define “large loss.” Developmental claims are routine claims that continue to develop over time, including back, shoulder and knee injuries. In this review, they represented about two-thirds of all large-loss claims. In many cases, there were opportunities to resolve the claims before they morphed into large losses, yet failure to recognize the loss potential and intervene earlier opened a Pandora’s Box.

Multiple failed surgeries was the most-common reason for escalating costs in these claims, followed by prescription opioid medications. Both catastrophic and developmental claims have extremely long tails and can remain open for 30 years or longer. The data clearly shows that every claim warrants attention and a comprehensive claims management program is critical to preventing routine claims from morphing to large losses.

 

NCCI Annual Issues Symposium – Mega Loss in Work Comp: How Medical and Treatment Advances Affect Life Expectancy

At the recent NCCI Annual Issues Symposium, presenters lauded the incredible medical advances that have enabled seriously injured workers to survive and survive longer and addressed how to improve outcomes related to these so-called work comp megaloss claims. Dr. Michael Choo and Scott Goll from Paradigm Outcomes discussed trends in mega losses (defined as claims with total incurred greater than $1 million) that average $3.2 million an incident in medical costs alone but can have costs up toward $20 million.

An analysis of Paradigm data showed that 51 to 60-year-olds represented the highest percentage of these claims and males surpassed females for accident rates. The leading causes included vehicle accidents, being struck by an object, and fall-slip-trip injuries. Burns and infections were among the most common medical afflictions.

While some of the cost drivers reflect medical advances, such as more frequent replacement of prosthetics with more high-tech components, innovative laser treatment for scars, and long-term care programs for brain and spinal cord injuries, up-charging for certain medical treatments, adverse events following treatment such as hospital infections, and co-morbidities also drive costs.

According to Dr. Choo these factors can best be mitigated with:

  • Expertise: It takes a team to have the knowledge and skills to ensure a high-quality outcome.
  • Experience: People with experience can tell you what works and what doesn’t.
  • Embracing Outcomes: Help providers focus on outcomes rather than optimizing revenues.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com