How the Whole Worker Approach Is Transforming Claims and Outcomes

The Whole Worker model is placing the injured worker at the center of care, taking into account their emotional wellbeing and working to create a sense of calm to their anxiety-inducing injuries.
By: | June 11, 2024

Dr. Dan Carlin always knew telemedicine had a role to play.

Perhaps that is because he is a doctor by trade, and he understands the impact technology has had on the medical world. Or perhaps it stems from his daring rescue via email in 1998, when a solo yacht racer was at risk of losing his arm while at sea and reached out to Carlin for aid.

Whatever the catalyst, Carlin knew telemedicine would be a paradigm of injury recovery. So much so that he has since dedicated his career to creating a model that places injured workers at the center of care.

This model — the Whole Worker approach — connects injured workers with a physician on day one, with on-site telemedicine aid. From there, the physician remains in contact with the worker through to maximum medical improvement (MMI).

“Along the way, the physician is communicating, setting expectations, meeting expectations,” said Carlin, CEO and founder of JobSiteCare. “We take the injured worker to a place of emotional safety.”

Why the Industry Needs a Whole Worker Model 

Workers’ compensation, while a vital tool to protect workers, is often confusing for the very people it aims to make whole.

For starters, the industry can be described by the unfortunate idiom “too many cooks in the kitchen.” And for good reason: Doctors, TPAs, carriers, contractors, claims managers, adjusters and more are essential to the process. But for the person at the center of this — the injured worker — all these new faces and titles can create stress, anxiety and doubt.

Added to that is the complex nature of workers’ comp: “It’s just the nature of the beast when injury occurs at work,” Carlin explained. “There’s a third-party mechanism for paying for care. It’s incredibly complicated. It literally changes from state to state.”

The Whole Worker approach aims to provide some level of calm in the storm.

“The Whole Worker model is grounded in the fundamental idea that the worker is the most powerful variable in their own recovery. That is a core concept,” said Carlin.

What that means is, when an injury occurs and a workers’ compensation claim starts, the Whole Worker model is looking at the worker’s needs, gathering information on their job, their family and home life, and working to settle any anxieties or fears surrounding their injury — all with the ultimate goal of returning them to work. As mentioned, a physician consults with the worker on day one, often while the worker is still on site, via telemedicine.

This goes beyond establishing rapport with the worker; it gives them direction and provides action.

“[Without the model,] the injured worker could be sent to the emergency room on their own. They wait five, six hours to be seen, just to be told they need to see a specialist. They’re sent home with vague directions on when they can go back to work,” Carlin said. “The human being that’s on the receiving end of this is not processing this in a favorable way,” which can lead to delays in recovery, as well as injured workers seeking the guidance of an attorney.

How Dr. Carlin’s Approach Works

But by connecting the worker with a physician — and having that same physician monitor the case through MMI — the injured worker has someone who can provide answers, set up appointments and keep the process moving.

“One of the components of our care model is we use real-time video telemedicine to see that worker at the worksite, typically within minutes of being injured. They’re at a point of anxiety and fear; they’re in pain. We’re catching them at a point of maximal emotional distress … Now we’re examining them and doing that culturally familiar ‘doctor thing’ of doing a detailed exam. This person’s emotional state, which was at a peak when we began our interaction, is now falling into a place of relative calm,” said Carlin.

The idea is that the worker is getting care, communication, a sense of accountability and a sense of competence through this initial interaction. It’s a way of saying, “Yes, you were injured. We’re going to address it fast and thoroughly. You will be taken care of.”

Carlin noted that regardless of the level of injury, from something as straightforward as a sprain down to the more serious injury of a laceration, the most important thing is that the treating physician follows through on what they say.

“If I say that we’re going to send them to urgent care or the emergency room for something like stitches or an X-ray, I need to make sure I’ve called ahead to that location so that the worker isn’t sitting in the waiting room for six hours,” Carlin said. “Then, I’m going to be the person who checks in on the case. Tomorrow, over the weekend, I’m going to follow up.”

Injury is more than a physical thing, and the emotional toll of being out of work can pile up, especially for workers who are responsible for the wellbeing of their families. The Whole Worker model takes this into account and addresses concerns as they arise.

“That’s a big part of the psychology of the Whole Worker. It’s this idea that we’re not just treating a broken thumb, and we’re not just treating even the body attached to the broken thumb,” said Carlin. “We’re treating a person and the entire ecosystem of their life.”

The Results Speak for Themselves

When Carlin first put the Whole Worker model into action, he was overseeing a single construction organization. Before he began, the organization sent 40% of medical incidents off site for care. With Carlin and team, that number is now 10%.

“A medical incident can be everything from a bee sting to an amputated finger to cardiac arrest. We were able to prevent off-site transfer for injuries that could be triaged on site, saving money and time right off the bat,” he said.

He estimated this translated into substantial claims cost savings of about 55%.

The Whole Worker model also cut back on indemnity costs, as the days away from work were cut by 90%. That’s because Carlin understood these injured workers did not want to stay at home, potentially receiving half pay, when they could be back on the job in a modified or light-duty capacity.

The team has since expanded its operations. This year, at National Comp 2024 in Las Vegas, Carlin and a panel of experts will be sharing real-world examples of the Whole Worker model in action.

“These injuries are very anxiety-inducing, and access to reliable information is so important to the worker. When the physician manages an injury, if they can make things move along, answer questions, create trust, it does a lot to reduce anxiety,” said Carlin. “It’s incredibly important that we see beyond that opening moment of the injury as well, to realize this is a journey. And the journey requires complete continuity in terms of communication, expectation and meeting expectations.” &

Hear more from Dr. Carlin and a panel of presenters at National Comp 2024. For more information on the session “How the Whole Worker Approach Is Transforming Claims and Outcomes” and other topics, visit here today.

Autumn Demberger is a freelance writer and can be reached at [email protected].

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