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Psychosocial factors can be barriers to recovery after a work-related injury: white paper

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Cambridge, MA — Early screening for psychosocial risk factors may aid in a worker’s recovery from an on-the-job injury, a new white paper from the Workers Compensation Research Institute suggests.

Psychosocial risk factors include poor recovery expectations after an injury, fear of pain, catastrophizing, distress, perceived injustice, job dissatisfaction, and lack of family or community support systems. Other relevant behavioral health conditions include chronic pain, depression, anxiety and substance use disorders. These risk factors and conditions can interfere with a worker’s recovery from injury.

The white paper’s authors interviewed workers’ comp stakeholders, including employers, insurers and medical providers. They also looked at treatment recommendations for behavioral health and reviewed other studies that focused on behavioral health services provided by workers’ comp systems.

 

The paper details screening tools, such as certain questionnaires, that workers’ comp stakeholders can use to identify psychosocial risk factors so the injured worker can get treatment or other forms of assistance.

The paper notes that behavioral health claims that don’t have a physical injury component have increased in recent years, but still remain “infrequent in many workers’ compensation jurisdictions.” One example is a post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from a workplace incident.

“The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the importance of behavioral health,” WCRI President and CEO John Ruser said in a press release. “In particular, workers’ compensation stakeholders recognize that unaddressed behavioral health issues might delay a worker’s recovery and return to work and increase medical costs. This study helps to identify behavioral health issues in workers’ compensation and create a common language and understanding.”

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