CompTalk: Fragility to Resiliency — The Road Traveled by Employers, Payers, Providers and Workers Through the Pandemic

Joe Van Winkle of SABABA Health Group shares how to incorporate functional data in addressing both the physical and mental health concerns of an injured worker.
By: | July 16, 2021

Every human being has undergone an experience that has had a profound impact on them or served as a catalyst for them to rethink themselves.

For many people, the on-going COVID-19 pandemic is the event that first comes to mind.

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While the pandemic has brought on many lessons, it provided a real look at both the fragility and resiliency of humans, especially from a mental health standpoint.

Human beings are fragile but also resilient. This notion can be a powerful tool in addressing injured worker claims. But how do we take human fragility and transition it to resiliency?

This was the topic of SABABA Health Group CEO and clinical director Joe Van Winkle’s National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference (National Comp) CompTalk, now available on-demand for viewing.

The CompTalk, “Fragility to Resiliency: The Road Traveled by Employers, Payers, Providers and Workers Through the Pandemic,” not only delved into mental health’s role in an injured worker’s claim but also the importance of proactively addressing any mental concerns.

It’s no secret that mental health plays an integral role in the overall recovery of an injured worker. If a patient’s mental health is faltering, their recovery could be significantly impacted.

“When we’re not in a good place mentally, it becomes overwhelming,” Van Winkle said. “And that feeling of being overwhelming; that fragile piece of us, starts to break down.”

Van Winkle says data shows these factors can accurately predict a patient’s delayed recovery from acute pain 91% of the time, without ever having to rely on other medical information.

So as the value of mental health are clearly identified, how can the workers’ comp space successfully utilize this information in its claims?

Van Winkle stressed the goal is to address mental health in injured worker claims without engaging in a psych claim that could take an extended amount of time to settle.

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Rather than still approach these claims from a traditional standpoint, Van Winkle presented the idea of using functional data, or data that is based on the injured worker’s function. The idea is to transition away from only focusing on how the patient feels and instead look at what they can do. This is where resiliency is found.

This functional data approach does not discredit the presence of mental health support. Van Winkle offered an example of this approach in a talk therapy setting, where the injured worker is encouraged to regain successful function of their injured body part.

Additionally, it’s imperative that all parties involved, including employers, payers, providers and the workers themselves, are using this functional data to gauge the progress of the specific recovery plan.

In terms of integration, Van Winkle said it boils down to three components: remaining proactive by screening for mental health issues early on, referring to mental health professionals prior to a treatment setback and relying on functional data to evaluate both the progress and outcome of recovery.

You can view Van Winkle’s full session on-demand here. Check out more CompTalks on the National Comp website&


National Comp — the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference — is back! We’re planning an in-person show for October, 20-22, 2021 and we’re excited to see everyone while still adhering to all safety protocols set forth by local and national health authorities at the time of the event.  Register today!

This year, we’ll feature seven tracks — from core content on medical and pharmaceutical management, claims and return-to-work, plus new and expanded avenues to explore like risk finance and injury prevention. All of our educational sessions are chosen for their ability to deliver sound takeaways and ideas that attendees can use right now.

In the meantime, National Comp will continue bringing you free virtual, educational content through our digital sessions series and our CompTalks program. Register today to make sure you don’t miss a digital session and check out our on-demand CompTalks library.  Missed a session? Watch it here on-demand.

Emma Brenner is a staff writer with Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]