Cut Disability Costs with Early Intervention

Are you an employer who would like to cut the costs of disability to your business? The experts agree: the best way to reduce the costs of disability is to intervene early.

What is meant by intervene? Well, studies indicate that employers, which put in place integrated disability management programs, help employees get the support they need, while also ensuring a quicker and more timely return to work after injury or disability.

Some studies indicate that such programs can actually have employees returning to work up to 20% sooner.

Let's look at an example. Sun Life did a study that tracked the outcomes of nearly 1,000 short-term disability claims, excluding maternity leaves. These claims were divided into two groups those who received early intervention disability services and those who did not. Early intervention services included:

  • Claimant and physician coaching about return-to-work expectations
  • Employer education on disability issues
  • Identification of viable job alternatives, including light duty positions to allow employees to return to the workplace sooner
  • Job site modifications to accommodate disabled workers to also allow early return
  • Medical intervention to ensure the employee was receiving appropriate medical care, at all phases of treatment and recovery
  • Three-way coordination and communication between the employer, employee and physician
  • Vocational counselling

While there are definitely costs associated with providing these services, either directly through the employer or through other professionals, the study showed that there was a high rate of success in returning employees to work early. In fact, on average employees receiving the early intervention services were back at work almost 3 weeks earlier, which saved employers over $800 per claim. Among the most important results, 33 % fewer claims extended into long term disability.

It would appear that the right services make all the difference. According to some experts, disabled workers actually stay on disability longer due to employment problems and lack of support services, rather than medical issues.

Sun Life concluded that early intervention can overcome two main barriers to a good outcome and early return to work:

  • Psychological

    You want your employee to return to work; you don't want them to adapt to not working. As soon as the employee is able to handle either a reduced workload or shortened day, it can help to get them back into the workplace.

  • Social

    A close relationship still exists between the employer and employee, and that can be very positive. If everyone remains focused on recovery and return to work, the employee will respond to that. Otherwise, before long, an employee can quickly become "out of sight, out of mind."

Another benefit for employers? Real savings. One study by Watson-Wyatt Worldwide and the Washington Business Group on Health, examined 178 major companies with an average of 13,500 workers and found that those which implemented short term disability claim management activities such as independent medical exams, behavioural health interventions, case management, and transitional return-to-work programs reported savings between 18 percent and 19 percent.

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