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Claims Management

Strategies for Improving the Motivation and Attitude of Injured Workers in Rehabilitation

Physical limitations are not the only factor in an injured worker’s ability to progress throughout the rehabilitation process. In fact, it could be right between the ears.

May 20, 2024

Mental health can be key to how quickly and successfully an injured worker recovers. When poorly managed, it can become extremely detrimental to their attitude in rehabilitation. Early identification of potential mental health concerns may keep recovery goals on track and optimize outcomes.

“Depression and anxiety are significant components in catastrophic work injury patients,” said Stacy Whalen, Senior Medical Manager at Safety National. “These employees may have suffered amputations, paraplegia, or traumatic brain injuries, all of which are life-altering. For rehabilitation to be successful, we work to understand the employees’ perspectives on coping with these significant life challenges. We strive to ensure they have the resources to work through those challenges. When patients struggle psychologically with the pathway of acceptance towards a new way of living, it can create significant barriers to an effective recovery.”

These potential issues should be addressed throughout an injured worker’s path to recovery.

1. Identify and address potential roadblocks to recovery early in the process.

There are a multitude of psychosocial factors that can impact the rehabilitation process. Understanding and identifying these issues may help predict when an injured employee might develop barriers during recovery. Contributing factors to recovery can include:

  • History of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Work dissatisfaction
  • Family, legal or financial problems
  • Low expectations of recovery
  • Disabled spouse or young children at home
  • Low wage earner
  • History of depression or other psychological diagnoses

An injured worker’s pain response is also critical to recovery. Some questions that may help measure the probability of success include:

  • What is the injured worker’s perception of pain? Will they be able to push through difficult and potentially painful processes when necessary?
  • How do they respond behaviorally to pain? Do they feel defeated?
  • Do they catastrophize scenarios? Have they given up before the real work begins?

2. Ensure active engagement with the injured worker’s support structure.

Family history, living conditions, and social dynamics can influence an injured worker’s recovery, and those components require the most intensive management in catastrophic claims. When a family or other support structure can provide verbal encouragement and compliments, it can shape how they feel about their ability to cope with the challenges ahead. Family can also help persuade injured workers to re-engage when they feel defeated. When there are perceived obstacles, an injured worker’s family can help identify if it is purely mental or if there is onset, limiting pain. Additionally, family is essential in building a trusted relationship with rehabilitation providers and should be treated as allies in meeting the goals of an injured worker.

3. Set achievable goals that meet expectations for recovery.

The goal for every injured worker is a successful return to work. However, in catastrophic cases, that is not always possible. A sense of normalcy in their daily lives and the potential for modified duties, though, may help keep an injured worker motivated throughout rehabilitation. Logging daily physical activities and pain levels can help track real-time progress, noting when maximum improvement may have been reached. Identifying and constantly reevaluating an injured worker’s abilities and needs throughout rehabilitation are important to establishing a recovery timeline and maintaining their engagement in the program.