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0406 HR Magazine: Embedding Health Counselors to Improve Workers' Comp Outcomes

By Susan J. Wells   4/1/2006
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HR Magazine, April 2006

Vol. 51, No. 4

The Doctor Is In-House  : Embedding Health Counselors to Improve Workers' Comp Outcomes

Another advantage of bringing health professionals on-site? A chance for closer reporting, monitoring and managing of workers' compensation claims.

Several years ago, Waste Management Inc. had trouble managing its workers' comp lost-time claims. Costs were sky-high, and management at the Houston-based company felt it was critical that they put some controls in place to begin to reign in expenses, says Betsy Robinson, director of strategic program development at Intracorp, the Philadelphia-based health and disability case management arm of CIGNA Corp.

Along with a comprehensive safety program, Waste Management launched a joint program with Intracorp in 2004 for about 50,000 employees. Under the program, dubbed Transition to Recovery, or T2R, when employees filed a workers' comp claim, the cost of the loss and the absence were allocated directly to their supervisor's bottom line. The result: Managers become more accountable for these costs-and a lot more interested in managing them more closely.

But another key emphasis of the T2R program really made the strategy click: occupational health counselors, who are based on-site at the company.

"They become the 'eyes and ears' of the location, working with employees, local HR, safety, claim and operations staff," says Robinson. Their aim is to end needless worker absences by hopefully creating a back-to-work plan that incorporates transitional jobs employees can do while recovering.

"They understand specifically what happens on a day-to-day basis and what is driving lost time," she says. "And they're more attuned to the specific issues of each site and each employee. By being there on a daily basis, they can also develop personal credibility with the workforce."

This on-site approach paid off: In the first year of the program, lost-time claims at Waste Management were reduced by 45 percent. Lost workdays also were slashed by 40 percent and allocation costs dropped by more than $49 million, Robinson says.

Overall, she says Intracorp has seen a 20 percent to 30 percent decrease in disability durations and more than a 90 percent return-to-work rate with this on-site case management model at the more than 40 employer programs it now has in place.

Susan J. Wells, a business journalist in the Washington, D.C., area and a contributing editor of HR Magazine, has 20 years of experience covering business news and workforce issues.
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