Workers comp costs for strains and sprains continue to plague employers. Add in the fact that the indirect costs are typically three times as high as the direct costs, and it’s easy to see why they’re such a headache. Fortunately, there are a number of programs that can help prevent and manage work-related injuries.
• Early Recognition—Considering it’s $42,000 for a “medically consulted” injury, it makes financial sense to evaluate and treat as many injuries and ailments onsite.
• Ergonomics—Objectively evaluate the workplace with ergonomic analysis tools and implement administrative and engineering controls to help prevent injuries.
• Job Coaching—Coach employees to use their muscles and body to their physical advantage. For example, did you know you can push an object with 20 percent more force than you can pull it?
• Wellness—Wellness services consist of health risk assessments, biometric screenings, health coaching, fitness programs, personal training and more.
• Physical Rehabilitation—Injury prevention is always the goal, but injuries may still happen. Onsite therapy, such as ultrasound and electrical stimulation, are effective ways to save money.
• Case Management—Every injured employee needs a plan to return to work. The focus must be on what the employee can do (not what they can’t do) in order to keep them at work.
Despite having an impressive onsite medical clinic, a Price Chopper Distribution Center (PCDC) still was searching for help with musculoskeletal disorders. That’s when the company contacted The Industrial Athlete Inc. (TIA) and decided to implement TIA’s sports medicine approach using an industrial medicine specialist (IMS).
• OSHA DART (Days Away, Restricted Duty and Transfers) rate of 6.5, a 64 percent decrease.
• Cost avoidance of more than $300,000 per year, on average.
• ROI of $6 for every $1 invested into the program.
Within the first year, PCDC decided it needed a second IMS. That allowed the facility to eliminate the onsite medical facility—a cost savings of $500,000.
Treating workers like athletes
TIA’s approach is borrowed from professional sports—treating your workforce as though they are athletes. Based on the physical nature of their job duties, they are, in fact, “industrial athletes.”
TIA started more than 30 years ago when Dr. Warren Schildberg, a sports medicine physician from Detroit, compared auto industry workers to the athletes he saw in his practice. Schildberg noted that the many of injuries that athletes suffered were repetitive motion injuries, such as strains and sprains, and were similar to the types of injuries that industrial workers experienced.
In the sports world, the athletic trainer is a nationally board certified, state licensed, degreed healthcare provider whose expertise includes first aid, injury triage, injury prevention, rehabilitation, fitness and wellness. The trainer additionally functions as the case manager, facilitating and ensuring the proper level of care for injured athletes. He or she also leads the return-to-play process.
TIA places an IMS on premises at industrial facilities, just like athletic teams have athletic trainers on the sidelines for their athletes.
According to Craig Halls, VP of operations at TIA, an IMS holds certifications in ergonomics and has specialized OSHA training, in addition to being a first aid and CPR instructor.
A worker who is injured at a facility with a traditional healthcare program in place (or no program in place) typically would be sent home, referred to his or her own doctor or be sent to urgent care/ER after an injury. It can take several days for the injured employee just to see the doctor. Having an immediate evaluation at the emergency room, which is usually not necessary with these types of injuries, leads to undue expenses and often results in basic triage, such as heat/ice, stretching exercises and over-the-counter medications. Treatments at the outside facility can take several weeks or even months. During that time, the worker may miss work or be placed on limited work duties, and the company will pay the outside medical facility for each medical appointment (either directly or through their insurance premiums). It’ important to note that many injuries referred to an ER are not actual emergencies, such as strains, sprains, foreign body in the eye, contusions, etc.
“Can you imagine a professional athlete being treated like that?” says Dr. Phillip Zinni, a sports medicine physician and national medical director for TIA.
According to Dr. Zinni, the activity surrounding an injury when it first occurs is probably the biggest determining factor in recovery.
“If we can treat an injury right away, more likely than not we’ll be able to cut the recovery time down to a fraction of what it would be. Not only do our workers recover quicker, but the companies we work for save significant amounts of money because of it,” he said.
Dwight Gaal, president of TIA, says the IMS approach helps save money through the SMART (Sports Medicine, Athletic Rehabilitation and Training) System.
“There are numerous ways the SMART System can save companies money. First, our IMS know how to help workers perform their jobs more ergonomically, which can stop injuries before they happen. Second, by rapid treatment and on-site rehabilitation, often with rehab sessions several times a day, we get the employee back to work faster after an injury. Third, everything is done on a flat fee basis. We don’t charge more if there is one session or 100. This is the exact opposite of the traditional healthcare model where the employer or insurance company pays for every rehab session, and every treatment that is provided during that session. In fact, the typical healthcare provider is monetarily motivated to drag out the rehabilitation and keep the worker away from work.”
Gaal said the IMS goes on the line and works side-by-side with an employee to learn what is involved in that worker’s job.
“That way we can make ergonomic and physical training suggestions to stop injuries before they happen,” he said.
The IMS is also available to help companies create programs for overall health. Since the IMS is there every day working with the employees, a bond is created. Thus, the health-related suggestions are coming from a caring “co-worker” as opposed from an anonymous source.
TIA also offers fitness management for corporations that have onsite fitness facilities. The fitness specialists have degrees in exercise physiology. They are stationed in the fitness facility, engaging employees to stay consistent with their wellness goals and helping administer the “medicine” of exercise.
“Our goal is to enhances the corporate wellness continuum ensuring companies are getting the most from their wellness programs,” said Rick Noelte, director of fitness operations.
Getting companies to think about work-related injuries and prevention is a new way is the biggest challenge TIA faces.
“The hardest part is changing mindsets of decision-makers. We can show that this way of doing things is better and saves money. The only problem is that it is different,” Gaal says. “People are resistant to change. Like many healthcare problems, it’s hard to get people to make the changes that are good for them.”
Added Dr. Zinni, “We try to emphasize that this isn’t a radical concept. Professional athletic teams have used this approach as their primary way of taking care of their athletes for a long time. Let’s face it, with the money involved in professional athletics, these teams wouldn’t be using this model of healthcare if it wasn’t the most effective way of doing things.”