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Doctors a crucial link in return-to-work success

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DANA POINT, Calif. — Physician support is an essential component of successful return-to-work programs, workers compensation professionals say.

A formal return-to-work program can reduce a company's workers comp costs, improve productivity and boost morale, experts said during the 2015 California Workers' Compensation & Risk Conference in Dana Point, California.

In addition to buy-in from senior management and injured workers, treating physicians should embrace an employer's program, De Ann Wagner, assistant vice president of claims at York Risk Services Group Inc., said Wednesday during a session about effective return-to-work programs.

That includes telling employers what injured workers functionally can or cannot do — not whether they should return to work, she said.

“It's not up to the doctor whether or not you can accommodate (a worker),” said Ms. Wagner, who is based in Inland Empire, California. “It's you're decision,” she told risk managers.

It's helpful to share with physicians which functions of an injured worker's job are essential and nonessential, she said.

Even if an injured worker has a 25-pound lifting restriction, it's important that physicians know “we can accommodate them,” said Joe Rodriguez, risk manager at retailer Warehouse Shoe Sale in Los Angeles.

“We would make sure they're not receiving the morning shipment” and that other employees are handling the more physical work, Mr. Rodriguez, who oversees 1,400 workers who have had few lost-time claims, said in an interview.

He said he appreciates treating physicians who keep him informed.

“I tell doctors … 'If you don't have time to call me after a visit, we won't work with you,' ” Mr. Rodriguez said.

“The fact that an employee asked for Vicodin or work restrictions when they didn't need it” isn't included in the physician's report, but can come out in a conversation with a doctor, he said. It is, however, noteworthy since an injured worker's attitude can greatly affect his or her claim.