Appraisal of Washington State workers' compensation-based return-to-work programs and suggested system improvements: a survey of workers with permanent impairments

Publication type
Journal article
Sears JM, Edmonds AT, MacEachen E, Fulton-Kehoe D
Date published
2021 Aug 01
American Journal of Industrial Medicine
Open Access?

BACKGROUND: Following a work-related permanent impairment, injured workers commonly face barriers to safe and successful return to work (RTW). Examining workers' experiences with the workers' compensation (WC) system could highlight opportunities to improve RTW outcomes. Objectives included summarizing workers': (1) appraisal of several WC-based RTW programs, and (2) suggestions for vocational rehabilitation and WC system improvements to promote safe and sustained RTW. METHODS: In telephone interviews, 582 Washington State workers with work-related permanent impairments were asked whether participation in specified WC-based RTW programs helped them RTW and/or stay at work. Suggestions for program and system improvements were solicited using open-ended questions; qualitative content analysis methods were used to inductively code responses. RESULTS: Most respondents reported positive impacts from RTW program participation; for example, 62.5% of vocational rehabilitation participants reported it helped them RTW, and 51.7% reported it helped them stay at work. Among 582 respondents, 28.0% reported that no change was needed to the WC system, while 57.6% provided suggestions or critiques. Reduce delays/simplify process/improve efficiency was the most frequent WC system theme-mentioned by 34.9%. Among 120 vocational rehabilitation participants, 35.8% reported that no change was needed to vocational rehabilitation, while 46.7% (N=56) provided suggestions or critiques. More worker choice/input into the vocational retraining plan was the most frequent vocational rehabilitation theme-mentioned by 33.9%. CONCLUSIONS: This study's findings suggest that there is substantial room for improvement in workers' experience with the WC system. In addition, injured workers' feedback may reflect opportunities to reduce administrative burden and to improve worker health and RTW outcomes