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Injured workers who take time off work to recover, and whose treatment includes more than 15 sessions of physical therapy, are out of the workforce longer and are six times more likely to cost more, according to a study published this month.
University of Texas at Austin researchers combed through 192,197 claims with a large, unnamed Texas-based workers compensation insurer between 2013 and 2017, classifying claims within four categories of physical therapy: zero to three sessions, four to nine, 10 to 14, and 15 or more, as reported in August’s Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
They found that the average indemnity for nonsurgical claims with 15 or more sessions was $19,013 — nearly $10,000 more than the next costliest category of those with 10 to 14 visits. Average medical costs for those in the 15-plus category stood at $18,494 — $10,000 greater than the average cost in the 10-to-14 category, according to the study.
Surgical claims with more than 15 physical therapy session cost the most, with a combined indemnity and medical average of $71,014: $31,627 more than that of the next highest category of 10 to 14 visits, according to the study.
Researchers also found that 15 or more physical therapy sessions was a “better predictor” of lost time in excess of six months.
Overuse of traditional physical therapy can add to injured employees' time off work and increase medical costs, but recognizing pitfalls can help employers reduce both, according to third-party administrator and managed care services provider CorVel Corp.