Dr. Sarvesh Logsetty
An athlete doesn’t stop playing a sport when they’re injured. They go for therapy and slowly reintroduce themselves to the sport with shorter time on the field or special equipment. If a runner fractures their foot, running in water and gradually transitioning to land can have them back to full performance quicker than being confined to bed rest.
As is the case with sports, rest isn’t always best with workplace injuries.
Work can be therapy and part of rehabilitation when your patient returns gradually or performs transitional duties that are meaningful and productive. A Return to Work plan can help workers recover faster, maintain emotional well-being, maintain relationships with their coworkers and keep their skills sharp.
As healthcare providers, we all have an important role in helping maintain our patients’ overall health – and that includes promoting activities and plans that benefit both physical and mental wellbeing, support active recovery and help individuals lead productive, meaningful lives.
Unless returning to work is dangerous for the patient, they should be encouraged to resume some, if not all, of their activities in a safe and timely manner – and it is our job as physicians to ensure we are helping them participate in a Return to Work plan with their employer.
Yet, despite the evidence and guidelines supporting a Return to Work strategy, only 1/3 of physicians recommend this as an option.
Studies show that a patient’s misunderstanding and fear about their injuries is the main barrier for participation in a Return to Work strategy, followed by non-supportive supervisors and co-workers. Your ability to explain the nature of the injury, dispel patient’s fears, and provide information about accommodating injured workers in the workplace is crucial to their timely return.
So how can we facilitate this shift?
Developing strategies for occupational rehabilitation begins with the patient’s first visit. Explore options for prompt Return to Work and workplace adjustments. The focus should be on what your patient can do rather than what they can’t. It’s important to understand the type of work the patient does and recommend timelines for their Return to Work and provide information about their capabilities for them and their employer.
Our role is to advise and support the injured worker, communicate their capabilities to the worker and the WCB, work with other involved healthcare professionals to facilitate improvement and complete WCB reports promptly and send them directly to the WCB.
The Return to Work program is a partnership among workers, employers, healthcare providers and the WCB. It’s good for the worker’s recovery and good for the employer who gets their valued worker back sooner.
Jamie Guzman, Annalee Yassi, Juliette E Cooper, and Jawad Khokhar, Return to work after occupational injury. Family physicians’ perspectives on soft-tissue injuries. (Canadian Family Physician Dec 2002, 48 (12) 1912-1919)