Communication is essential when it comes to resolving workers' compensation cases as quickly and efficiently as possible. In fact, comprehensive case management – which requires effective communication between all parties involved – is nearly as important as the extent and severity of injury in determining how long an injured employee will take to recover and reenter the workforce. According to a study conducted by the Rand Center for Health And Safety in the Workplace, comprehensive management of employee injuries can reduce out of work time by as much as 42 percent.
So what do you need to know about communication to ensure you are handling workers' comp cases efficiently? A study done by the Workers' Compensation Research Group points out that while plenty of coordinated communication between workers' compensation claimants, employers, payers, medical professionals, and other involved parties is essential to moving claims along to the most efficient conclusion, what may be even more important is the quality and tone of those communications.
In the aforementioned study, researchers found that miscommunication was an important factor in whether or not a claimant hired an attorney – which often resulted in unnecessary delays and/or avoidable litigation, results that do not serve the best interests of injured employees, nor of employers and other stakeholders. Problems that led to these poor results commonly involved common misperceptions on the part of injured employees, such as:
- The perception that they risk retaliation or job loss for injuries or workers' compensation claims
- A belief that supervisors doubt the legitimacy of their injury or feel that they are exaggerating its severity
- The incorrect assumption that their claim has been or will soon be denied, often due to payment delays or inaccurate information on the claims process
Study authors recommend the following solutions to these often costly miscommunication issues:
- Train supervisors to ensure timely and appropriate communications that convey job security, trust, and a respect for the employee's right to be compensated for workplace injuries
- Provide educational materials on workplace injuries and workers' comp to employees as well as a help line or contact person who can answer any questions and concerns
- Communicate clearly with the employee about claim status to prevent misunderstandings and ease feelings of anxiety or uncertainty
- Work to improve any inefficiencies in your workers' comp process that interfere with timely payments or encourage denials of legitimate claims
Objective and accurate measures of the job demands and the injured employee's physical abilities can facilitate clear communication. For example, if a formal job analysis has been conducted and the employer and employee both know the physical job demands, there is less opportunity for conflict or debate over job requirements. If a return to work screen has been performed on the injured employee, the medical management team has objective information that can be compared to job demands and will facilitate the return to work decision instead of relying on a subjective clinical opinion regarding the employee's physical abilities.
An article published in insurance industry trade magazine Rough Notes also stresses the importance of clear, timely, appropriate communication in optimal resolution of workers' compensation claims. The author suggests that close employer involvement in the claims process with consistent contact and communication with the injured worker, medical care providers, claims representatives, and other stakeholders is essential to reducing out-of-work time for injured employees. Doing so can reduce the cost of workers' comp claims by an average of 20 to 50 percent.
The consensus is that poor communication can be quite costly when it comes to workers' comp claims. Avoiding those unnecessary costs means making communication a priority in your workers' compensation and/or return to work programs. Case managers are the key to that communication and should be easily available to and regularly in touch with all involved parties. Additionally, regular, supportive communication with injured employees, including informal reassurance and formal evaluation of recovery progress, aids in quicker and more successful resolutions – results that benefit both the employee and employers.The employee is able to more quickly recover from injury, and employers and other stakeholders profit from faster restoration of workplace productivity and lower workers' compensation costs.