Risk Insider: Rebecca Shafer

Think of Injured Employees Compassionately

By: | October 7, 2014

Rebecca Shafer is a risk consultant and attorney. She is author of Your Ultimate Guide to Mastering Workers Comp Costs. She can be reached at [email protected]

If we think compassionately about each employee as a person with a family and personal assets, just like ourselves, we would set injury response plans not just with business-only questions.

The insurance industry can miss the mark and ruin lives when compassion is missing.

Let me explain by using this fictional example:  Andrew Campbell*, 37, was driving home in a downpour from a business trip. Visibility became so bad he pulled over but was struck from behind. He lost his spleen and eventually seizures forced him to take time off work. After three months, his employer eliminated his position and told co-workers to cease contact.

Campbell lawyered up. He not only sued his employer for benefits due under workers’ compensation, but he also hired a separate employment attorney to get his job back with accommodations. Campbell won, but it took three years and the employer had to re-open the job, pay both side’s costs and all medical bills, many of which were overdue.

Perspective matters. Rather than, “How can I save money?” Ask, “How can I provide humanized medical care for my injured worker and get him back to work sooner?”

What would this scenario have looked like if the employer sent Campbell a get well card the next day? And meant it? If his supervisor suggested co-workers visit him at home and made sure rehabilitation was provided as necessary rather than sending even small requests for such things as Pepto-Bismol to utilization review for denial?

Instead, what happened was the employer strung him along while attorney bills piled high. Many medical bills had to be paid out of personal savings, while Campbell hoped for reimbursement years down the road. A long claim takes its toll on the injured employee and the employer, and eventually is cost-shifted to taxpayers through Medicare, unemployment and federal and state disability.

Perspective matters. Rather than, “How can I save money?” Ask, “How can I provide humanized medical care for my injured worker and get him back to work sooner? Can I offer more than the bare minimum and become the ‘employer of choice’ in this area? “

In Campbell’s case, a blizzard of post-injury procedure errors such as incomplete insurance information and a simple lack of instructions about transportation to the hospital made his small claim not just large, but huge. Difficulty finding a doctor in the employer’s network who knew about traumatic brain injury caused frustration and delayed medical treatment, meaning improvement was more limited than hoped.

Fixing this means compassion and patience when our business model pushes for lower costs and quick resolution.

Perhaps you are a small firm and don’t have a human resources department. Reading a few books or websites on workers compensation can give an employer enough information to develop a tight post injury response procedure that includes training on questions such as: Where do you take the injured workers? What insurance information do injured employees need about workers’ compensation?

Million dollar claims are very rare, but when they happen, quick, fair response is, by far, the best course of action. Better $1 million than two. Wrap your arms around the injured worker.

* Not his real name

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