Benefits of early referral still an issue
While small improvements are occurring around workplace injury referrals, industry and policymakers are largely ignoring the significant benefits of early intervention, the latest Konekt Market Report has found.
The Konekt Market Report Volume 3 analysed more than 130,000 compensable and non-compensable cases over a seven-year period and identified the key factors that determine greater health and return-to-work outcomes. Konekt also drilled deeper into mental health conditions and how to manage them in the workplace.
The report’s findings are largely consistent with the trends reported in the previous two reports, especially around the time taken from injury to referral. While this is trending downwards, the significant benefits of early intervention continue to be widely ignored by the industry and policy makers, evidenced by a lack of fundamental changes to drive broad early intervention.
The data underpinning the report shows the importance of early referral. The return-to-work (RTW) rate for people referred within two weeks of injury is 97%, compared with those referred at four months, where the rate drops to 92%.
Konekt also found that (assuming the injured person was unable to work for the duration of the injury and rehabilitation) the wages bill and rehabilitation costs for someone referred at 104 weeks would be up to $140,020. The cost for a person referred within two weeks from time of injury would be less than $18,225.
Overall, successful return to work rates are improving – reaching 96% in FY15, but compensable RTW rates were lower, with only 90% reaching a successful outcome. Injuries occurring in small organisations are more likely to be compensable (98% of cases) and continue to be referred later (36 weeks) compared to those from large organisations, who refer at 20 weeks.
A very positive trend is that more people are returning to full-time work (90% in FY15) and are doing so after a shorter period of rehabilitation.
The data found musculoskeletal injuries remain the most common type of injury comprising 58% of referrals, while mental health conditions account for 12%; an incidence that has not changed over the past seven years.
Managing mental health conditions
The Konekt Market Report was launched around the country in May, with a panel of guest speakers including clinical and Organisational Psychologist Dr Peter Cotton discussing the implications of Konekt’s findings in how mental health conditions are managed in the workplace. At the launch, Cotton reiterated that the earlier the referral, the better the outcome.
“When it comes to mental health, there seems to be a hands-off approach in workplaces and with many treaters,” he said. “But mental health should be treated in parallel to managing physical injuries and workplaces need to have plans in place to deal with them including a working structure, timeframes, clear goals and milestones.”
Ultimately, Cotton says, all workplaces should have high levels of mental health literacy. “This includes having leaders that foster a climate for well-being and proactively initiating supportive conversations with at-risk staff,” he says.
The figures around mental health are compelling: about 45% of Australians aged between 16 and 85 will experience a mental health condition at some point in their life and within any 12-month period, 20% of Australians will have experienced one.
These occurrences come with very high personal and economic costs. Mental illness is one of the leading causes of sickness absence and long-term work incapacity in Australia and also one of the main health-related reasons for reduced work performance.
But there is increasing evidence that workplaces can play an important role in maintaining the mental health and well-being of their staff. Every business has a legal and moral responsibility to provide a safe and fair workplace, and creating a mentally healthy workplace has many benefits for both employers and employees.
Given that mental health claims are often more complex and less likely to result in a positive RTW outcome, early intervention is even more important. Cases that are referred between 0-6 weeks achieve a successful RTW in 93% of cases compared with 86% for those with a delay of 14-26 weeks and 77% for those with a delay of 53-104 weeks.
While Konekt’s findings show incremental improvements are occurring around earlier referral, more changes are required within industry around early intervention in order to deliver benefits to industry, employers and staff.