There is growing consensus that a healthier workforce can not only reduce injuries but also reduce duration of disability and severity of injuries. A panel at the 2016 SIIA Workers’ Compensation Executive Forum discussed how a higher focus on employee wellness can impact your workers’ compensation program. The panel was:
- Brian Carpenter – Clinical Director, Optum
- Kevin Confetti – Deputy Chief Risk Officer, University of California
- Mark Pew – Senior Vice President, PRIUM
There have been conflicting studies around the overall effectiveness of a wellness program. Some studies show significant return on investment for these programs, while others show the effectiveness of these programs can be adversely impacted by a variety of factors including an aging workforce, obesity, poor nutrition, etc.
One of the biggest challenges in treating the whole individual is that workers’ compensation and group health often operate in separate silos. Information is not readily shared between these silos which leads to not addressing co-morbidities, could result in treating overlapping conditions. It could also result in some very dangerous pharmacy side effects if the worker is receiving drugs under their group health that may adversely interact with medications they are receiving for their workers’ compensation claim. This is heightened by the fact that liver and kidney functions decrease starting around age 55. Medication dosages need to be adjusted for older workers because of this.
There are many areas in which the whole person comes into play with a workers compensation program. The biopsychosocial model is focused on getting a better understanding of the lifestyle elements that can ultimately impact a workers’ compensation claim. When it comes to gauging impairment vs disability issues like motivation come into play. Two people with the same injury can have completely different outcomes based on their motivation.
The University of California developed a WorkStrong Program that was designed to increase overall employee wellness and cut down on repeat workers’ compensation injuries. The WorkStrong program is designed to promote recovery from injuries and help prevent future injuries. It tapped into experts in safety, sports medicine, nutrition, and other areas. The program is customized for each individual based on their injury and other factors.
They implemented this program in October 2011. Anyone who suffers a workplace injury that has comorbidities is eligible for the program. The program focuses on overall wellness. This includes the employee’s weight, nutrition, cardiovascular, and core strength. They also focused on issues such as life balance and stress management. The employees get to work with a certified professional trainer to help them learn proper exercise technique.
The program has resulted in measurable decreases in disability times, less repeat injuries, and better recoveries from subsequently injuries. 68% of the employees who have gone through the program have continued to work out after they completed it. Many have noted that the things they learned about nutrition were incorporated into their home lives. 38% of the workers who participated in the program graduated from it. They felt this produced a 39% savings (20% was their breakeven). Their actuary is telling them that they are seeing less repeat injuries because of this program.
It was noted that this program is possible because University of California has all these resources available to them on campus. They are able to tap into their existing resources for the benefit of the workforce.