It was a lively and bruising discussion, but one well worth having. It occurred during a 3 hour session of the Disability Management and Return to Work Committee at last week's IAIABC forum, and the topic turned to a paper the committee hopes to complete this year. This paper is intended to lay the foundation for continued development of industry standards and procedures regarding Return to Work.

I wrote last fall about our previous committee meeting in San Diego, where I first encountered the term “Return to Function” (RTF). At the time it was offered as a less controversial alternative to Return to Work, as it addresses underlying functionality and quality of life issues for the injured worker. An obvious extension and result of successful RTF is that a worker who has function restored can also likely return to work. This is the direction I hoped the committee would follow and emphasize as we proceed on this multi-year project.

In a scene likely reminiscent of the early Vietnam War peace talks, where it took about 3 years to agree on the shape of the table negotiators would sit at, our discussion launched and quickly lurched on the title of said project paper. While the group generally was drawn to the non-controversial appeal of RTF, there were those concerned that a paper that emphasized it in the title would not be as widely recognized by an industry immersed in the phraseology surrounding RTW. Essentially, the concern was that no one would Google “Return to Function” when looking for return to work information.

I conceded that point, but strongly maintained that this project was part of a massive effort to educate and retool the thinking process on RTW. I argued (quite passionately I would like to think) that the committee embracing RTF and leading by example was a critical part of this effort. The discussion was friendly, but the feelings were fairly intense. The man who led the charge in opposition to the RTF’ers (as history will no doubt refer to us) was a mild mannered and extremely genial friend named Dr. Gregor Kempor. Gregor is the Director of International Relations for the German Socialist Something or Other. He is quite the pleasant and interesting fellow; and he blitzkrieged my fanny with international definitions of both function and work ability. As best as I can determine, his points might best be summarized by saying one may have restored function without returning to work, but one cannot return to work without restored function. The Germans distinctly view these as different elements (which admittedly they are), and felt the committee and title focus should be on Return to Work.

 In the end, the vote was 10 to 3, with my side the recipients of the less enthusiastic value. I lost that battle, but it wasn’t a complete failure. While RTW will be the dominant theme in the title, RTF will also have its place within it. Once the title discussion was out of the way, and everyone had time to bandage their wounds, the committee continued by assigning the tasks necessary to complete this project sometime this year. There are very good people on this committee, and I am confident that we can get this done.

So now the effort begins to put “Return to Function” in the mainstream of the workers’ compensation lexicon. I still maintain that this method, focusing on restoring function and quality of life for the injured worker, is the most effective path for ultimate recovery. By concentrating on those movements and tasks that allow a worker some normalcy in their life, we gain immediate buy in from all sides; buy in that lowers the barrier of opposition seen in an oft mistrusted return to work process.  

Return to Function might have lost the initial vote of confidence in the naming convention of our framework paper, but it is by no means down for the count. I will do all I can to see that the phrase gains recognition and awareness, and that the committee and industry return to “function”.  It will be an integral part of the message going forward.

You can count on it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *