I am speaking next week as the opening presenter for the 2015 Minnesota Workers' Compensation Summit: “Keeping Minnesota Safe and Healthy”. The topic of my presentation is “No Brain, No Gain – Imagining Our Way to Better Injury Outcomes”. It is based on an article I wrote last year, called simply, “No Brain, No Gain“. That article was a light hearted review of a study that showed we have the ability to positively impact strength and physical development by mentally envisioning physical exercise.

Now, trust me, if you want to have someone discuss any concept involving “No Brain”, then I am definitely your go to guy.

I recognized that this topic fits well with other presentations I’ve made; I speak and write a great deal about changing the language and focus of the industry. But as I was putting the finishing touches on my presentation, I really came to realize how little we as an industry appreciate the human mind as a tool in the battle for recovery.

We are a human industry. We deal in human need, human pain and human suffering, yet the continual changes we seek; the laws we write, often develop process and procedure that seem to not recognize the existence of any humanity in the mix. As laws and process get ever more complex, (SB 863 in California is an excellent example), we seem to fall further and further from the goal of competently treating an injured worker and returning them to a contributory capacity in society. When pitted against the human psyche and societal expectations of today, legal reforms alone will never achieve the improvement many of us would like to see.

No, instead of continually reforming laws, we need to instead concentrate on reforming the mind; not just the minds of an industry, but also the minds of the injured that we serve. As I said in the original article, it turns out the answer is not in front of our nose. It is behind it. If we can envision a system where the injured worker is taken care of with a complete commitment on recovery, where litigation is minimized through effective communication and education, and where workers’ understand the importance of restoring function and viability, we can achieve what legislative reform alone could never touch.

It starts, as I have said so many times before, by realigning the thought process of our industry. Workers’ Compensation should be called Workers’ Recovery. Injured workers’ today, thrown into a system they do not know or understand, focus on the word “compensation” with an all but absolute zeal. The process often comes off the rails the moment they are injured and told to file a “workers’ compensation claim”. The emphasis from that point forward is very often, “What is my claim worth?”, or “How much will I be paid?” Rarely does anyone ask about getting the right medical care or what they can do to insure they are fully restored; no, the focus on “compensation” is a misguided one that we help generate. The expectations are even further misaligned particularly because of the tremendous gap that exists between what they think compensation should be and what our industry actually provides.

Placing an injured worker into the Workers’ Recovery system when they file a Workers’ Recovery claim would eliminate that first major misstep. The mental message from the outset would be on recovery, not compensation.

Additional influence could be applied in better defining the gap between impairment and disability. Permanently injured workers’ all generally have impairment, but not all impaired persons have a disability. Our job, as an industry, is to help guide that thought process and reduce the amount of disability our industry generates by better adapting injured people to accept and deal with their impairment.

That last suggestion is possible with no legislative reforms whatsoever. We simply need to recognize the need for better communication and improved expectations about what people are still capable of – when they put their minds to it.

I look forward to sharing these thoughts and more next week in Brainerd, MN. Normally I like to spend at least a day at the various events where I speak, but unfortunately for this event will literally need to “speak and run”, since I have to catch a plane that evening for Nashville, and the NWCDN Seminar the very next day. If you are interested in learning more about the Minnesota Summit, you may do so here. I look forward to seeing everyone there.

Until that time, remember, our problems are very real, but there is an excellent chance that the solutions for the largest among them are probably just in our head.

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