Rehab consultant Katya Halsall explains how rehabilitation for income protection claimants should be used to deliver the best possible outcomes.
Income protection insurers are well aware of the value of vocational rehabilitation for their policyholders, which helps employers to manage workplace sickness absence.
But how can the rehabilitation process deliver the best possible outcomes?
Focusing on abilities not limitations
Vocational rehabilitation interventions for affected employees should focus on the individual's abilities and not on their limitations.
Currently, it appears that many market solutions focus on the client's limitations simply because the rehabilitation processes are aligned to medical observations.
For successful return to work outcomes to be achieved, a shift needs to be made away from the medical approach that is based solely on the individual's diagnosis.
An employee does not have to be 100% recovered from an illness in order to return to work. Appropriate workplace support enables to manage the employee's symptoms in the workplace.
"You won't be able to work again for a long time."
"Going back to work is too soon for you."
These statements are sadly not uncommon and are made purely on the medical approach.
It is no surprise that when people are presented information about their health in such a way, they are likely to absorb this negative and disabling language.
Such statements outline the problem, paint the individual's situation in the worst possible way and leave the affected person in a negative frame of mind - and therefore, should be challenged:
• Specifically, what kind of work presents difficulties?
• What type of work is suitable at present?
• What exactly is preventing this individual from returning to suitable work?
• Can they return to work in an amended/suitable role so that their current limitations are accommodated?
• What are the timescales for this individual to return to work with support?
General statements regarding the clients' fitness for work are not productive. It is essential to evaluate the clients' abilities and limitations in respect of a specific role.
Diagnosis VS function
When planning a return to work, demedicalising the rehabilitation process helps to concentrate on the individual's ability to function.
The individual's medical diagnosis should not determine their ability to work.
Two people with the same diagnosis may have different symptoms and different ability to cope with these symptoms. If return to work support is based on the diagnosis only, it does not take into account the individual's strengths and abilities.
Setting rehabilitation outcomes
The primary outcome of medical treatment is health improvement which may not lead to a return to work. Whereas the primary outcome of Vocational Rehabilitation is return to work.
Effective vocational rehabilitation helps policyholders and their employees by developing personalised and structured return to work plans.
For the affected employee, health improvements are likely to follow because being in work is good for people's physical and mental health.
There are a number of state provided and private absence management initiatives available but their effectiveness is questionable.
Some of them do not engage with the employers, others are not tailored to all stakeholder needs and some provide only general guidance, without offering problem solving solutions.
Crucially, many of these initiatives will only conclude with what an individual cannot and is unable to do.
A win-win-win for all
Demedicalising the rehabilitation process a win-win for all.
The benefits of embedding vocational rehabilitation which focuses on the individual's abilities in the income protection policy offer include:
• Offering extra value to the policyholders
• Retaining existing customers when it is time for policy renewal
• Gaining new customers in the current competitive insurance market by offering high quality vocational rehabilitation
• Offering absence management support from week 1 of the employees' absence
• Ensuring that the policyholders receive professional advice regarding workplace adjustments and education about how to manage various health conditions in the workplace
• Reducing the number of claims by helping absent employees to return to work in a timely and safe manner before the end of the deferred period
The focus should be always be kept on the individual's abilities and what they can and are able to do because being in work is good for people.
Katya Halsall is a Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant, Sickness Absence Manager & Career Coach at Eclectic Human Solutions