Work injuries and coaching patients to their best health outcomes
Getting back to work as soon as possible after an injury might feel like a difficult and even dangerous task both for doctor and patient, but research tells us it’s ‘good for us to work’. ReturnToWorkSA and ModMed have developed a free online course for busy GPs who are struggling to find practical and caring ways of coaching and counselling patients to achieve their best health outcomes when it comes to returning to work.
Whatever the cause, being without work increases our risks of psychological, physical and social problems. The longer you’re off work, the more problems accumulate, and the more difficult it is to finally get back to work. If the injury occurred at work in the first place, there are sometimes complex relationships and/or fears to negotiate. RTWSA is committed to supporting employers, doctors, patients and other health care providers all working together for the benefit of the community. In addition to educational resources, such as the online course, they have trained case managers and processes to navigate the progression as smoothly as possible.
One of the big issues is when return to work should happen. The answer is really ‘as soon as possible’ and ‘possible’ takes into account whether there is safe and suitable work available. This doesn’t mean the patient needs to be 100% recovered as work is actually an important component of the therapy! So part of a GP’s job is to help the patient see the benefits of work, decrease their fears, debunk the myths and then work out what they can actually do. The employer then should have enough information to try to find work that will fit with what the GP says is possible for the patient. Of course everyone needs to have realistic expectations and review the situation regularly to see how it’s all going.
It’s like being a ‘coach’ – listening, observing, questioning, challenging, providing feedback and always encouraging the patient to get the best outcome they can out of the situation. There are of course some people who are more difficult to get back to work – it might be the patient’s personal beliefs about their injury, their social circumstances, or something about the employer, the workplace or the system. This course gives GPs skills in dealing with these situations.
We’re all busy and as GPs we never know when someone is going to come to us with an injury that means they can’t work. Doing this course will help us know what to do, and why to do it, so that next time someone comes with an injury, whether it be work-related or not, we will have some new skills to be able to help them.