Following my session at the Washington Self Insurers Association (WSIA) Annual Conference yesterday, Washington L&I’s Vickie Kennedy and Ryan Guppy took the stage in a session entitled “Avoiding Disability Through Early Return to Work”. They relayed what the state is doing to improve Return to Work here, and made some excellent points about dealing with recovering workers on a psychosocial level. I intend to write more about their presentation next week, after they email me their Powerpoint so I can steal all of their bullet points and other content. There was, however, one point they drove home that I wish to very briefly talk about now.  

Regular perusers of the Cluttered Desk know that I am a big advocate of changing the phrasing used by and for our industry. Workers’ Compensation should be called Workers’ Recovery. Adjusters should be Recovery Specialists. Injured workers should be Recovering Workers. This simple change in vernacular will go a long way in affecting the psychological outlook of newly injured entering the system.

One point I’ve heard before, but had not given enough thought to, was that we need to do the same thing with “Disability Management”. It really needs to be “Disability Prevention”. This concept has been mentioned several times in the IAIABC DM & RTW committee I serve on, but it really did not register with me until this session. Guppy made excellent points as to why we should use the “Prevention” moniker. 

I’m probably viewing this shift differently than most. Many people, when they hear the phrase “Disability Prevention” will think of safety and accident avoidance. Certainly that is an important part of the formula, but for me it is just one part. Disability Prevention can also be used effectively to prevent a persons existing impairment from becoming a permanent disability.

The two are definitely not the same thing. An impairment is a physical reality. Disability on the other hand, is a legal construct, and is often determined by how a person chooses to accept their particular impairment. Positive efforts driven by a “prevention mindset” can help lead a newly impaired person back to a functional life, and away from that of disability dependence.  

Suffice it to say that Disability Prevention would a much bigger role than simply preventing injury. It would help us avoid an insult after the injury as well. 

Thought for the grist mill. More on this next week.

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