Incident Prevention Magazine

Peter P. Greaney, M.D.

Empowering Employees to Take Care of Themselves

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Sergio is repairing equipment at a power station when he feels a twinge of discomfort in his lower back. Per company policy, he informs his supervisor. What happens next is likely to have a critical impact on the outcome for Sergio and his employer.

Let’s assume the supervisor instructs Sergio to stop working and visit a clinic for evaluation. At the clinic, the treating provider conducts a physical exam, orders some diagnostic tests and writes a prescription for medication to relieve pain and inflammation. Sergio takes the afternoon off and returns to work the next day with restrictions. The encounter is recordable and results in a workers’ compensation claim.

Now, let’s consider an alternative scenario. Sergio and his supervisor call or use a smartphone application to contact an injury management triage center. Sergio describes his symptoms to an occupational health nurse or physician who offers reassurance and care guidance. He is given the option of a clinic visit, but with instructions from the clinician, Sergio instead voluntarily agrees to self-administer first aid.

After applying a cold pack to his back and taking a nonprescription anti-inflammatory medication approved for use at the worksite, Sergio resumes work and is able to safely finish his shift. A claim is not filed and there is no case to record.

In the first scenario, a routine complaint of low-back discomfort diverges onto a path with the potential for high medical costs, productivity loss, delayed recovery and litigation. In the second scenario, Sergio is given choices that include using work – an activity “prescription” – as therapy during recovery. Sergio is empowered to successfully manage his condition without worrying about making it worse or potentially missing work.

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