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Workers compensation payers are now relying on tests that screen for potential mental health issues that could affect the outcome of a claim, including one that mines a person’s childhood for signs that a physical injury could eventually lead to a mental one.
Dr. Teresa Bartlett, Troy, Michigan-based senior vice president of medical quality for third-party administrator Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., said one of the most interesting trends in early identification for potential psychosocial factors in a claim is the use of a test that grew out of an obesity study conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 1995 and 1997.
Researchers wanted to know why people who lost significant amounts of weight tend to regain it, she said, adding that the common issue was mental. People who regained tended to experience one or more of 10 “adverse childhood events” singled out in the study, she said.
Those included physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, seeing their mother treated violently, household substance abuse, household mental illness, parental separation or divorce, and/or an incarcerated household member.
“If those were present in early childhood, it was likely you would carry it through your life and it would impact you,” Dr. Bartlett said. “Screening for adverse events in childhood in a workers comp claim enables us to perhaps see that this might be a troublesome claim.” “You’ll see delayed recovery, more perceived pain (and) more dependent personalities,” she added.
It’s not always physical injuries that can lead to the most costly workers compensation claims; psychosocial issues such as depression or anxiety also can delay return to work and increase claim costs, experts say.