What is the most common outcome of a work injury? That is a question that psychologist Dr. Les Kertay likes to pose to audiences when he speaks about workers’ compensation. He did so earlier this week during a presentation before the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary (NAWCJ), which gathered for their educational track at the Orlando Workers’ Compensation Institute 76th Annual Conference.

The answers he received included “depression,” “litigation,” and “disability.” But the answer he was looking for evaded the group. Kertay told the assembled that audiences often take some time to arrive at the correct answer. 

And the answer to the question “What is the most common outcome of a work injury?” is: “They go back to work.”

Personally, I knew the answer he was looking for, if only because we had breakfast together earlier in the day as part of a gathering of WorkCompCollege.com Deans, of which Kertay is a member. We had discussed this very question. My mother would have likely been proud that I held my tongue and did not blurt out the answer early on. After all, nobody likes a know-it-all.

The reality is that an estimated 85% of workers’ compensation injuries go through the process and return to work, with many cases experiencing no lost time at all. We have long noted that we spend 90% of our time discussing and debating about 10% of our injury cases; cases that often represent significant injury and long-term ramifications. The judges that day were responding from their particular vantage point and correctly answered in relation to the cases they see. It is just that they generally don’t see all the cases in workers’ comp – which include injuries that are relatively minor, or where no litigation occurred. It is not that they were unaware of the greater statistics. It is just that those statistics were not part of their daily work experience. 

We all form impressions and opinions based on our experiences, as well as the information available to us. Our perceptions of a situation, or even an entire industry, can be formed by those somewhat limited exposures. This is true of every sector in our industry.

Understanding the bigger picture is essential when addressing issues within the industry, yet from almost every vantage point it is a difficult thing to do. Knowing that the structure works for the “silent majority” is helpful, even when we recognize that there is room for improvement across the entire system. The reality is that most people who experience a workplace injury get better and go back to work. Our challenge as an industry is to improve the scheme for those simple cases, as well as the more complex ones we expend the most energy over. Understanding biopsychosocial factors, improving communication, and restoring humanity to an often cold and technical process will help everyone who enters our world. 

Yes, the most common result in workers’ comp is our patients go back to work. But that doesn’t mean we cannot help them go back to work better.

Well, you know what I mean.

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