Managed Physical Medicine

Workers’ Comp Costs: Why Physical Therapy is Bigger than You Think (Part 2 of 2)

Occupational injury rates and workers’ comp claim frequency continue to decline. Is your total spend for musculoskeletal treatment following suit?

In this two-part series, “Workers’ Comp Costs: Why Physical Therapy is Bigger than You Think,” we explore some of the reasons why, despite positive overall claim trends, the percentage of claims with physical therapy (PT) involvement is on the rise – and why a managed physical medicine program continues to be a necessary component of workers’ comp managed care.

As discussed in part 1 of this series, on-the-job injury rates are declining, but physical medicine claims are steadily climbing, with outpatient physical therapy services listed on 63% of 2017 lost time claims.

Why is physical medicine a part of so many workers’ comp claims? To better understand this trend, let’s take a step back and look at how musculoskeletal injuries affect today’s employees and employers.

The Prevalence of Work-Related Musculoskeletal Injury

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), musculoskeletal disorders alone, including injuries resulting from overexertion such as sprains and strains, made up 31 percent of the total cases for all workers in 2015. While claims rates are falling due in large part to workplace safety programs, the numbers show that accidents are still a risk. And if you’re a growing company with a growing number of employees, that often means assuming higher risk. Falls, slips, and trips accounted for 27 percent of the total occupational injuries and illnesses, and the incidence rate of workers being struck by an object or equipment increased year over year. Professions at a high risk include laborers and freight, stock and material movers; nursing assistants; and heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers – each accounting for almost 5 percent of the private sector’s musculoskeletal cases in 2015.

Extended Lost Time

The prevalence of musculoskeletal injuries becomes even more concerning when you consider that musculoskeletal disorder cases typically have more days away from work than the average nonfatal workplace injury or illness. In fact, according to BLS data, in 2017, the median number of days away from work for musculoskeletal injuries was 13 compared with 9 for all other workplace injuries. Unless well-coordinated, recuperation for patients with musculoskeletal injuries can be unnecessarily complicated and drawn out. One way to counteract these effects is for employers to ensure injured workers are matched with the right physical therapist as quickly as possible and feel supported during the scheduling process so treatment can begin promptly. Physical therapy as a first-line of treatment has been shown to be a cost-effective contributor to positive patient outcomes.

Conclusion

Workplace safety programs are a big part of keeping workers’ comp claims in check, but for the injuries that cannot be prevented, employers must set their workers up for success. A managed physical medicine program is a must-have for employers as the increase in claims with physical medicine involvement continues to climb. Ensure your company has the necessary partners and resources in place so that no matter how much your company grows or healthcare policies change, your injured workers can rely on a supported and streamlined road to recovery.