Why early intervention therapy is a better solution for injury

Michael Galvan

It happens thousands of times every day: a warehouse worker gets caught between two pallets, a nurse walks across the halls and slips on a wet surface, a welder bends over and their back seizes up. Work-related injuries are some of the most common reasons that people experience injuries and chronic pain. 

These conditions are often the result of accidents, ergonomic inefficiencies, or overexertion. 

What do most people do after injuries?

Work-related injuries are often very painful. In the United States, patients who are experiencing large amounts of pain are commonly prescribed strong narcotics and immediate rest. This methodology, while occasionally necessary, has unfortunately created a scenario in which many patients develop opioid addictions.

Why is opioid addiction a problem for workers comp injuries?

A recent study showed that of people who chronically abuse opioids, more than half received those pills from prescriptions written for them. What is even more concerning is that more than 90% of individuals who survived a prescription drug overdose were able to get another prescription for the same drug that caused the overdose! And of those people, 70% obtained the new prescription from the original referring physician.

This problem runs rampant among workers compensation cases. In 2011, more than 25% of workers’ compensation prescription drug claim costs were for opioid pain medication. From an employer perspective there is another very important reason to worry about over prescription of these powerful pain medications.

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries ran a study that concluded that receiving more than a one week supply of opioids soon after an injury doubled a worker’s risk for going on disability a year later.

Part of the reason for these staggering numbers is that the longer a patient is on opioid medication, the more likely they will become addicted. This presents another serious problem for employers. Some recent court decisions have determined that opioid-related addiction and death among injured workers become eligible for payment by employer worker’s compensation programs.

What is early intervention therapy?

Early intervention therapy means treating patients immediately after an injury. Patients partner with physical and occupational therapists who are designed to help them regain mobility and decrease pain. This can be done through a combination of exercises, stretches, and physical manipulation.

Why is early intervention therapy a better solution?

There are several reasons that early intervention physical and occupational therapy is often a more effective and safe solution than opioid therapy. There are numerous research studies that show the sooner a person starts rehabilitation; the sooner he or she is able to return to work. 

 Functional recovery makes patients involved in their care and reduces the risk of depression often associated with going on disability. It also provides an opportunity for providers to educate patients on their condition and what they can do to make improvements. This information provides a sense of self-responsibility that achieves better recovery results.

Another benefit of early intervention therapy is that workers are often given home recovery plans. PTs and OTs emphasize a practical, hands-on approach that teaches patients to perform therapy exercises at home, with regular "check-ins" with the PT or OT. This innovative approach minimizes office visits, saves out-of-pocket costs, and still monitors their return to productivity.

Is there anything else employers can do to reduce injury rates and severity?

A large part of an early intervention strategy is preventing injuries in the first place. Many businesses have signed up to have ergonomic specialists, doctors, and medical center directors tour their worksite. This gives medical professionals the opportunity to spot high risk areas.

Here is an example. Company A is a large manufacturing organization that produces engines for tractors. They have noticed an unusually large percentage of their staff is going on workers compensation and disability leave. Management decides to partner with Concentra to determine how they can better protect and heal their workforce.

Concentra sends over a doctor and local center director to examine the factory. The physician notices that at one station employees are continually bending over and lifting large engine parts onto an assembly line. This physician recommends that the employer purchase a winch machine to decrease the lower back strain on employees moving these parts. This recommendation dramatically reduces injuries and chronic pain among workers.

The next step is sending all the workers that do get injured to a Concentra physical therapist. Thie therapist focuses on early intervention strategies that reduce the numbers of injured workers that go on disability and improves quality of life among the staff.  Both of these moves end up saving the employer thousands of dollars and generating a great ROI.

If you are interested in learning more about how Concentra is a leader in the workers’ compensation space, contact one of our workforce health experts who can discuss your needs.