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What makes an effective workplace rehabilitation program? And why it matters



The annual social and economic impacts of work incapacity in Australia are considerable. According to Safe Work Australia, more than half a million Australians sustain a work-related injury or illness each year at an estimated cost of $61.8 billion[i]. This impacts the health system, economy, and society in a multitude of ways including loss of productivity, income and quality of life.

Workplace rehabilitation is the process of providing guidance and support to an injured worker to enable safe and timely return to work after an injury or illness. It is about finding the best ways for a worker to remain at work and engaged with the workplace while keeping their valuable skills.

Renee Thornton, General Manager of Rehab Management, a leading corporate health provider, says workplace rehabilitation is beneficial to both the injured worker and the employer.

“Return to work rates have largely remained unchanged over the past 15 years yet the typical amount of time off work for serious workers’ compensation claims is increasing, particularly for workers experiencing psychological injury. Therefore having a solid plan and support is fundamental.

“For workers, it can mean faster recovery, reduced suffering, and minimal disruption to family, social and working life. It can also help to improve a person’s confidence about returning to work, enabling them to return earlier to productive work and job security.

“For employers, using a rehabilitation provider can provide them with support to effectively manage the process and help their worker deal with an injury. This can assist them with retaining – rather than losing – a skilled worker, and also help to control the costs of workplace injury.”

What makes a good workplace rehabilitation program?

As part of the broader Arriba Group Rehab Management was recently named Australia’s Best Place to Work (Health Industries)[ii]. Ms Thornton outlines the following key ingredients for a successful workplace rehabilitation program.

  • Get the diagnosis right

“The first step is looking at how the injury is holistically impacting the person and what the symptoms are. Taking the time to get a clear clinical diagnosis will help all parties to understand what approach makes sense and to avoid friction points down the road.” 

  • Person-centred and realistic goals

“A person’s recovery is as unique as they are. Use a tailored person-centred approach to encourage and assist your worker to take an active role in their recovery. Ask about the parts of their job they feel they can do and the support they need. For them to have success, the goals need to be aligned to what is important to them and have personal meaning. Returning to work, although important, may not be their immediate focus. Going from zero to 100 in a short space of time is often not realistic and can result in setbacks.” 

  • Engage all stakeholders throughout the process

“A collaborative return to work process leads to the best outcomes for everyone and minimises setbacks. A good rehab provider will negotiate and work towards ensuring everyone is onboard with the agreed goals that are relevant to the person and their diagnosis. They will communicate with all stakeholders through the journey as things progress or change. In addition to the worker and employer, stakeholders may include doctors, specialists, psychologists and other health professionals.” 

  • Measure and monitor

“A written plan developed in collaboration significantly improves the likelihood of successful return to work following injury. In the early stage of a claim, this increases the likelihood of return to work by 1.7 times, and by 3.4 times after 30 days. All stakeholders should have a copy of the agreed plan and the information should be tailored so that everyone understands the work they will do and any support required. It should include timeframes for reviewing progress and amended accordingly if recovery is quicker or slower than expected.” 

Why using a workplace rehabilitation provider matters?

The evidence shows that the engagement of a workplace rehabilitation provider has a strong return on investment. As summarised by the Australian Rehabilitation Providers Association[iii]:

- the ROI for every $1 invested in early intervention is $75

- international evidence has shown that expenditure on work reintegration and rehabilitation has an average ROI for employers of 3.7

- Swisse RE found that for every $1 spent on rehabilitation services on life insurance claims, insurers saved between $24 and $39 on income protection claims costs

- for claims between 6 and 24 months’ time lost, the appointment of a workplace rehabilitation provider improves the return to work outcome

- the timely appointment of a workplace rehabilitation provider (within the first 8 weeks) can improve return to work rates by 3% to 5%

- appointing a workplace rehabilitation provider early in the claims process can result in total claims costs savings of between 4% and 9%

“A good workplace rehabilitation provider, like Rehab Management, will act like a music conductor – keeping everyone on track and playing their different parts appropriately. They can educate employers on what is reasonable in the circumstances, the clinical diagnosis and how to best support their worker. They will also reassure workers about the process and put a support team around them with the right clinicians. In the end, it’s all about achieving timely and sustainable return to work outcomes,” finished Ms Thornton.

 

For more information on accessing Rehab Management’s tools and corporate health support visit www.rehabmanagement.com.au

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