Opinion | I Thought I Knew the Health Care Score Until I Saw My Own Father’s Treatment

Group health could stand to learn a lesson or two from the workers' compensation industry.
By: | April 7, 2022
Portrait of Michelle Kerr

Within the past several months, I spent quite a bit of time as a caregiver for a trauma patient, who also happens to be my father. Six broken ribs, a lumbar spine fracture, a broken wrist and a torn rotator cuff, with a co-morbid heart condition and diabetes. 

Good times, good times. 

Was it a work injury? Well, no. It was a stubborn octogenarian fall risk injury, in this case. But throughout the experience, I thought often of the obvious parallels of a work injury to any other injury. 

Given what I do, it gave me a unique look at how very easily a claim can skid off the rails.

There were five consecutive hospital stays in total. We didn’t have an easy go of things. 

We struggled to get answers, again and again. We faced a lack of communication, a failure of care coordination, diagnostic delays, treatment delays, missed diagnoses, medication confusion, inadequate staffing and even patient safety concerns. 

The problems were severe enough that we abruptly pulled him out of one hospital due to inadequate care and transferred him to another. 

As the family of the injured, we were infuriated, no surprise. And what happens when you add anger to injury? 

We all know it well. It didn’t take long for one litigious-minded relative to make grumblings about lawsuits.

That talk eventually quieted, thank goodness. But I tried to imagine the family of an injured worker having those same conversations. 

I can see how easily employers can find themselves in the crosshairs when people are lashing out in frustration. 

A family member is suffering, not getting the care they need and they’re looking for someone to blame. 

I thought about the costs as well – two months of hospital and rehab facility care, treatment delays and lack of care coordination playing no small part in that duration. 

And of course, I thought about the patient, a man with a cheery disposition, quick with a joke, and sharp as a tack for his years. Instead, he was depressed, forgetful and cloudy, thanks to a combination of pain, opioid medication and a trauma experience. 

His frustration with his care made him irritable and mistrustful of providers. Lack of progress made him avoid his prescribed exercises, presuming them futile.

I’d like to think that if this had been a workers’ comp injury, things would have been different. It would have been a smoother, faster recovery. 

We would have had a nurse case manager helping us. They could have addressed our concerns, answered his questions and ours, managing expectations and connecting him to the right providers and services in a timely manner. 

He would have felt confident in his providers and in his treatment plan. 

This particular patient is finally on the mend, and I am grateful. But patient care in group health, I’ve learned, is not always the easiest place for a patient or their caregivers to inhabit. 

Workers’ compensation patient care can be, and should always be, better than that. 

Injured workers and their families deserve it. &

Michelle Kerr is Workers’ Compensation Editor and National Conference Chair for Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected].