WorkComp Advisory
newsletter archive case studies articles

Working effectively with the family practitioner

While the ideal situation is to have all Workers’ Compensation injuries treated by physicians trained in Occupational Medicine who understand how to facilitate recovery and expedite return to work, it’s not unusual to be dealing with a family practitioner who has little or no training in Occupational Medicine. Frequently, there are stories about the physician asking injured employees how many days they want off work or prescribing the improper treatment. And the blame for the unnecessary costs and delays in return to work is placed squarely on the treating physician. Yet, a passive employer can be equally as responsible because many doctors do not understand the process and the employer does not educate them.

At a recent symposium of the Institute of WorkComp Professionals, Dr. Michael Weizman, a board certified family physician, presented a new perspective on the employer – employee – physician relationship. Prior to being introduced to the Institute’s process of managing Workers’ Compensation, Dr. Weizman’s views were quite typical:
• Assumed the injured patient did not want to return to work
• Assumed that injured patients in general wanted to blame the employer and take advantage of the situation
• Assumed the injured employee's visits would be unrewarding doctor-patient encounters
• Would more than likely give the patient whatever he/she wanted to expedite his day
Dr. Weizman readily admits that he did not fully understand the mentality and motivation of the injured employee, or the motivation and goals of the employer and had little incentive to learn more or change his ways. Although he wanted to do what was right for his injured patients, he lacked knowledge and understanding of Workers’ Comp and had not been contacted by employers who may have altered his views.

However, when he was introduced to the Institute process and educated on the value of managing Workers’ Compensation, he realized his approach was flawed and that:
• Injured employees in general do want to return to work
• Employers want to minimize their losses
• There are evidence-based guidelines for various injuries and time away from work predictions that he can use
• The sooner employees return to work, the more likely they are to stay in the workforce
• He could take a more pro-active role in the process
• He could increase his job satisfaction of caring for injured patients by doing the right thing
Today, Dr. Weizman works to influence patient outcomes based on his newly developed proactive approach to Workers’ Comp cases. While he is committed to expanding his knowledge, he expresses frustration that few employers are proactive and contact him.

To optimize the services from any medical provider, employers need to communicate and monitor the patient care to return the injured employee safely to work as soon as possible. It is only with an understanding of the essential job functions, the availability of modified duty and the employer’s concern for the employee, that treating physicians can make reasonable decisions on when employees can return to work.