Getting the injured worker back to work

Communicating with the injured worker is the key element of your role in the return to work process. Injured workers and their health professionals need to discuss return to work options early. This is an important part of their recovery and the return to work process and having these discussions can help improve your patient’s mental state and encourage a positive attitude about their recovery and getting back to work.

Communicating about the health benefits of working and setting a goal for return to work from the initial consultation is important. As the treating doctor, the information and attitude you impart at the initial consultation sets the scene for the worker and strongly influences future actions. If an employer or insurer has supplied information about possible alternative duties, consider if an opportunity exists to commence an early return to work. Even if the date for return to work changes, it's good for them to have a goal to work towards. Remember that an early return to work, even when the patient isn’t 100 per cent recovered, can be a part of their return to work.

The employer’s active early involvement is encouraged and is crucial to the success of a worker’s return to work. By seeing the employer (with the workers consent) at the time of the initial consultation, the return to work journey can commence as a joint approach. It is helpful if the employer supplies information such as photos of work processes and other jobs available at the workplace. As the treating doctor you may receive requests for further updates from the employer and the insurer following the initial return to work discussions.   

Remember, your positive focus on what your patient can do will help them stay motivated and dedicated to return to work.

Getting the conversation started is important. Here’s some prompts to get you started:

  • "Let's look at what you can do, not what you can't do."
  • "Work is an important part of your rehabilitation and recovery."
  • "Even if you're not doing your usual tasks at first, being at work, busy, distracted and socially engaged is much better for you than staying at home."
  • "We don't want to put you in a situation that aggravates your condition, but if you just stay at home and rest, it's likely that your recovery will be slower and your pain will be worse."
  • "There's a difference between pain that hurts and pain that harms. I'd expect you to experience some pain regardless of whether you're back at work, but that doesn't mean you're doing any harm."
  • "Nobody knows your work environment better than you and your employer do, so let's work together and ease you back in."
  • "You're making steady progress – I would expect you to continue to improve and be able to start on modified duties after your next appointment."
  • You should ensure you have your patient's consent to contact their employer in accordance with professional obligations. It is preferable to have the patient with you when you're having any conversations about appropriate duties and how the employer could modify the workplace to facilitate an early return to safe work.

Last updated
09 November 2016