Redefining Health and Wellness in the Workplace
The COVID-19 pandemic and its many auxiliary effects have brought about the concept of a “new normal.”1 The core idea behind a new normal includes the paradigm shifts and changes that employers have made to adapt and adjust with the virus. Some changes, like plexiglass barriers between assembly line employees, were temporary and faded as vaccines proliferated and transmission risk abated. Other trends, like hybrid schedules for many white-collar workers, seem to be a more permanent adaptation.2
If change breeds more change, the pandemic presents a unique chance to adapt to a more holistic view of occupational health that takes all the components of health, from the emotional to the psychological to the physical, into account. With the right occupational health partner, like Concentra®, employers can redefine and improve the way they handle workforce health.
Assessing Employee Pain and Return to Work
The pandemic has added another wrinkle to assessing when and how an employee can return to work: Long COVID.
About 37 percent of employees who recover from COVID-19 will experience the symptoms of Long COVID.3 Employees impacted may develop symptoms different from their acute COVID-19 illness, and the effects of Long COVID can linger for more than four weeks past diagnosis – in some cases for months. Even young employees or employees who initially experienced mild symptoms can feel unwell for long periods. Some common symptoms of Long COVID include fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, joint or muscle pain, concentration or sleep problems, loss of smell or taste, and dizziness upon standing.4 In some cases, these symptoms may worsen after physical activity.
Returning to work is particularly difficult for employees with Long COVID because there is no timetable for symptoms to develop or abate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that new symptoms can develop weeks or months after infection and may present as different combinations of health problems.
With Long COVID’s combination of physical and mental symptoms, facilitating the return-to-work (RTW) process requires a flexible framework – one that goes beyond relying on an employee’s pain level to determine recovery status.5 Pain is a complex sensory and emotional experience that may or may not be associated with tissue damage. Some people continue to feel pain even after their tissues have healed from acute injury or illness because their brain still perceives danger. Pain pathways can become persistent if they keep being activated, like when patients are repeatedly asked to rate their pain. According to Maja Jurisic, MD, CPE, a Concentra vice president, medical director, and leading advocate of a pain scale alternative, focusing on improvement in function rather than eradication of every vestige of pain is a better way “to help an injured employee return to work smoothly and safely.”
Concentra created the Functional Restoration/Status of Healing (FReSH) scale to reframe injury recovery through using patients’ return of functional capabilities rather than level of pain to gauge progression of healing. Employees see improved outcomes when they focus on physical abilities, progression on objective measures, high quality nutrition, and restorative sleep instead of pain. Concentra’s redefined view of recovery has yielded positive results that directly benefit employers and their workforces, including increased productivity and a reduction in opioid prescriptions.
Ease of Treatment and Recovery
One of the biggest revelations from the pandemic has been the success and growth of telemedicine. Overall telemedicine usage spiked by 4,000 percent in April of 2020 and, although these numbers have moderated over the past year and a half, telemedicine is a much more viable option for care than it was pre-pandemic.6
Telemedicine is part of a trend that emphasizes the importance of employee ease of care. Employers should look for an occupational health provider that offers employees a personalized path to care – making it easy to receive care when and where it’s needed.7
Concentra Telemed®, Concentra’s 24/7 telemedicine platform, provides employees with an excellent remote treatment option. Injuries that are treatable using Concentra’s telemedicine platform include:
- Minor sprains and strains
- First-degree burns
- Tendonitis and other repetitive-use injuries
- Bloodborne pathogen exposures
The platform can also be used to perform injury rechecks for many conditions, keeping the entire injury and treatment process online and avoiding time-consuming trips to a medical center.
A personalized path to care extends beyond telemedicine, especially for employees with injuries that demand physical therapy. Concentra Telerehab® eliminates many of the traditional roadblocks to therapy, as employees can complete appointments from home or a suitable, private space at work, which helps to keep recovery on track. Concentra Telerehab is accessible through Concentra Telemed and available to employee-patients who were previously seen in a Concentra medical center.
Appointments are available during local medical center hours; employees are generally seen by the same therapists they would visit for an in-person therapy session. Like Concentra Telemed, Concentra Telerehab eliminates many of the indirect costs on care, like lost hours and productivity, while also giving employees the flexibility they desire.
While the pandemic did bring greater attention around virtual care, all signs point toward telemedicine being here to stay; therefore, employers must consider their occupational health provider’s digital health offerings as they look to reimagine care options for their workforces.
Many of the biggest adaptations of the pandemic, like masks, social distancing, and physical dividers, are based on the idea of prevention. The CDC, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and countless other organizations released guidelines on how to protect employees and prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace. Medical experts believe that many of the lessons learned in COVID prevention may prove useful for other sicknesses, including influenza and pneumonia.8,9 When it comes to protecting the workforce, injury prevention can be viewed through the same lens.
Like COVID-19 prevention, injury prevention works best when it is part of a multi-pronged effort. A strong occupational health provider will offer comprehensive solutions that combine education and experience-based training to help employees incorporate safety into their daily practices.
At Concentra, injury prevention starts with exercise. Our physical therapists teach employees exercises that will help them better perform their jobs. Our athletic trainers can help employees with pre- and intra-shift stretching routines that prepare their bodies for physical activity and reduce the risk of injury. Beyond employee fitness, our occupational health experts can evaluate ergonomic hazards in the workplace and recommend ways for employees to safely handle tasks. When put together, these injury prevention and wellness programs can have a positive impact on employees and an employer’s bottom line.
Redefine workforce health and wellness with Concentra
Pandemic-forced adaptations have left the door open for employers to redefine other parts of their business, and occupational health is a great place to start. Concentra – with nearly 520 medical centers across the country and decades of experience in pushing occupational health standards forward – can help any employer looking to update and improve the care it provides its workforce.
Contact Concentra to learn how to redefine workforce health and wellness today.
- “Strategies Businesses can Implement to Adapt to the New Normal,” Research FDI, July 30, 2021.
- “Adapt Your Business to the New Reality,” by Michael G. Jacobides and Martin Reeves. Harvard Business Review. September 1, 2021.
- “More than One-Third of COVID-19 Patients may Experience Long COVID Symptoms,” by Deep Shulka. Medical News Today. October 5, 2021.
- “COVID-19 (Coronavirus): Long-term Effects,” Mayo Clinic. n.d.
- “Occupational Health Must Develop ‘Trustful’ Relationships to Support Long Covid Return,” by Ashleigh Webber. Occupational Health and Wellbeing Plus. December 17, 2021.
- “Health Care After COVID: The Rise of Telemedicine,” by Cara Murez. U.S. News & World Reports. January 5, 2021.
- “Behavioral health fast becoming focus area for workers' comp insurers” by Bethan Moorcraft. Insurance Business America. December 29, 2021.
- “Applying Lessons Learned From COVID-19 to Fight the Seasonal Flu,” by Sophie Wheelock, Mark A. Zezza, Jane R. Zucker, and Angela Soto. Health Affairs. November 15, 2021.
- Waterer, G. Applying the Lessons Learned from Coronavirus Disease 2019 to Improve Pneumonia Management. Current Opinion in Infectious Diseases. 2021; 34(2): 175-179.