I am encouraged that, more and more, I am hearing the impact of bio psychosocial issues on workers’ compensation being discussed at conferences I attend around the nation. My visit to the 103rd Annual Convention of the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC) was no exception to this trend.

The conference was held in Portland, OR, and concluded Thursday. 

The Disability Management and Return to Work Committee of the IAIABC has worked to emphasize this area in recent years. At this particular conference, we (I have served on this committee for several years) had two employers with aggressive and successful RTW programs speak to our committee and interested attendees. I intend to go into specific detail on these presentations in a future post, but, as is often the case, an individual comment struck me as worthy of further review.

During a Q&A exchange with one of the employers, it was mentioned that they needed to be concerned with the “injured employee as a whole”; meaning that what was happening in the life of an injured worker outside and beyond the injury was as important as the injury itself, and that smart employers will be concerned with the total wellbeing of their employee.

It really got me to thinking that there are two ways to view your injured worker. You can, as offered in the example, “view them as a whole”, giving consideration to all influencing factors, acknowledge their humanity and address the entire picture, or you can “view them as a hole”, where time, energy and resources are dumped; essentially wasted on an often fruitless cause.

Unfortunately, I suspect many employers, particularly smaller and less sophisticated ones, too frequently employ the latter strategy.

Silly employers. They probably have no idea how much that losing practice costs them.

Those who concentrate on the bio-psychosocial factors know that what happens to an injured worker earlier in life and in places other than the workplace can dramatically affect their post-injury outcome. In fact, recent studies and trends are showing that early life experiences can have as much or more influence on outcome than the management of the immediate injury. Some people are, by the detriment of prior traumatic experiences, far more likely to have a claim go south than others with more stable psychosocial environments. Many of the red flag protocols today are based on perceptions and reactions of the injured worker, and those perceptions and reactions are guided by prior life experiences.

Investing in the understanding of that dynamic can make dramatic differences in the outcome of a workplace injury.

I intend to write a bit more about this – there was a comment in another session about “not wanting to pay for Mommy issues” that I definitely want to take on.

Meanwhile, I am boarding a plane for the long flight back to Florida. It was a productive and worthwhile conference. It would be more worthwhile if we can convince employers that it is in their best interest to view their injured as a whole, rather than a hole.

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