What does a good rehabilitation and return to work program look like? Reflections from WorkReady 2017
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Workers’ compensation and group insurance systems are a hot topic at the moment, with many arguing that there is a smarter rehabilitation approach to support employee wellbeing. This was the focus of CommInsure’s recent WorkReady events, attended by over 200 employers and superannuation fund representatives.
Rounding out the events was a panel discussion led by CommInsure’s Head of Claims Strategy and Optimisation, Ciaran Curley. The panel included the following speakers:
• Michelle Ware, Queensland Manager Workplace Risk at Willis Towers Watson
• Carly Van Den Akker, Claims Rehabilitation Manager at Swiss Re
• Julie Ann MacCormick, Rehabilitation Manager at CommInsure, and
• Mark Newton, Health Executive and Leadership Consultant.
Here are some of the highlights of the discussion:
Q1. What does a good rehabilitation and return to work program look like?
JULIE ANN MACCORMICK: Within companies, insurance is often managed within silos. HR might be managing the workers’ compensation with the return to work coordinator and there might be another area altogether that is managing the return to work through income protection.
What we want to see is a unified approach that is best for the individual. We really need to do better for our employees to make sure we can accommodate them in the best possible way.
Employers are obliged to make reasonable adjustments for their employees and you have to assume they really want those people to be at work, they’ve employed them for a good reason and they want them to stay and so they define reasonable adjustments as any that don’t create unjustifiable hardship for employers.
Q2. What does a good absence management framework look like, particularly for small to medium sized employers?
MICHELLE WARE: Some of the things that employers are looking at in terms of absence management is predictive data analytics. So rather than just looking at incidents, this really gets into the predictive stage of drilling down into people’s behaviours, socioeconomic status, backgrounds, physical information, age, gender and occupation, and looks to predict what type of injury or illness this person potentially will be subject to in future, and having targeted strategies that talk to that individual.
A lot of organisations have people in diverse roles. You’ve got someone working in a call centre out in Parramatta as opposed to someone who’s working in a mine in Queensland. Obviously their needs are going to be completely different so having those targeted strategies and initiatives, and using predictive data analytics to try and predict absenteeism and then putting models in place really early to try and prevent that is critical.
JULIE ANN MACCORMICK: For employers, what I have seen as being most effective in terms of absence management are strong line managers who are equipped to have good conversations with their employees.
Having strong rapport so that those conversations can flow is important so you can support your workers in the way that they need, and establish the communication protocols from the start.
We often hear of people disengaging because they’re being contacted too frequently by their employer when they’re off work recovering or they are not being contacted at all. People are very confused by this. ‘Why isn’t my employer contacting me? They obviously don’t care about me,’ or ‘Why are they harassing me to get back to work when they know I’m sick?’. Establishing those communication protocols and having a good relationship with the worker at the outset is really key.
MARK NEWTON: It really is around workplace culture. There are ways that a larger organisation may be able to invest more in that, although, there are now third party organisations that can support smaller organisations and almost provide 24/7 coverage. This can be through health hotlines, or the provision of services not just in relation to workers’ compensation but treating the worker in a holistic way by recognising that if they have crises at home or in their private life, that’s going to flow into the workplace.
CARLY VAN DEN AKKER: With the introduction of the FSC Life Code of Practice - from an income protection point of view, there’s more of a mandate for insurers to do better. What we’re seeing is the introduction of cross-jurisdiction case conferencing. This is about getting the workers’ compensation insurer and the life insurer in the same room for big schemes or employer groups, and sharing information (within stipulated privacy provisions) on claim progress and making sure we’re utilising all the services available to achieve the best outcome for the customer.
The focus needs to be on putting the same goal at the top of the chart for that individual rather than all of us having competing priorities with the person being in the centre of a very complex, and often confronting environment.
Q3. What are some of the workers’ compensation incentives for those employees who are trying to return to work with a new employer rather than an existing employer?
MARK NEWTON: One of the incentives that can be considered is the social prescribing of GPs, such as the GP who prescribed someone several rounds of golf. That might seem humorous but in fact it can be true.
Social prescribing is when a GP sees a patient and doesn’t necessarily just prescribe a bunch of drugs or a surgical intervention but actually understands that there may be wider lifestyle issues at play here. For example, through the application of the principles of social prescribing or the use of “evidence based medicine” it will ensure that the proposed treatment is valid given the diagnosis and there are now systems available to allow that to occur.
JULIE ANN MACCORMICK: What you are saying about social prescribing and looking at the broader picture is certainly the direction of rehabilitation within life insurance at the moment. In years gone by it was focused on occupational rehabilitation so it was about how we can coordinate a return to work plan once somebody has been advised by their doctor that they have some capacity for work. So we stayed out of that space where somebody was recovering and it wasn’t until their doctor had said this person can now go back to work in some form that we would engage.
Now we are really getting involved at the outset and seeing what we can do to better coordinate care and to really engage the individual about what will add meaning to their life to aid their recovery. That could be about being able to pick up their children from school or prepare the evening meal or whatever it is that’s going to enable someone to be active and recover.
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