Focus on the Patient, Not the Pain
The upcoming release of the new ACOEM opioid treatment guideline reflects new evidence associated with opioid risks. Of note, one of the recommendations is to significantly lower the maximum daily morphine equivalent dose (MED) to 50 from the 120 MED recommended in earlier guidelines. Morphine is the standard against which the potency of all other opioids is measured. While it is tempting to focus on the MED reduction, the real story is the opportunity the new guideline presents for payers to redefine their opioid strategy.
Robert Goldberg, MD, FACOEM, an occupational medicine specialist and chief medical officer at workers’ compensation PBM Healthesystems, expects the new guideline to help reshape the opioid discussion. “Once physicians consistently approach pain relief as a tool for helping speed recovery instead of as the ultimate goal of treatment, everything will change,” noted Dr. Goldberg. “When physicians focus on pain relief as the primary goal and prescribe opioids on the first visit, they open up patients and payers to well-documented risks. The outcomes data show that this approach is not working.”
A past president of ACOEM, Dr. Goldberg recommends payers include four key steps when updating or redefining their current opioid strategy. The steps involve developing a new treatment philosophy; gaining access to the right information systems and clinical expertise; establishing new policies and procedures to support the new approach; and deploying precisely timed clinical tools and strategies to keep claims on track.
Step 1 – Refocus treatment goals
The most effective opioid strategy is one that takes a holistic approach and makes recovery and functional improvement the ultimate goal of treatment. Dr. Goldberg advises physicians and payers to refocus the goal of treatment as a critical first step in updating their opioid strategy.
“A key principle in occupational medicine is to minimize the effects of an injury and help injured workers remain at work whenever possible, or regain function and return to work,” explained Dr. Goldberg. In addition to reframing treatment goals, he recommends implementing these supporting strategies:
- Focus on adequate pain relief — reduce pain sufficiently so that injured workers can participate in treatment plans to speed recovery.
- Follow the updated opioids guideline — use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen as a primary treatment and physical therapy when indicated.
- Incorporate alternative therapies — adjunctive therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, massage, yoga, chiropractic and acupuncture can aid in pain relief and help injured workers cope with the presence of some pain.
Step 2 – Gain access to the right information systems and clinical expertise
Another step needed to update an opioid strategy is to ensure that the claims organization has access to the right data and expert analysis so they can identify claims requiring close attention. To achieve this, payers should:
- Develop state-of-the-art information systems — or rely on a PBM — to provide reliable data that can quickly identify cases that are moving toward prolonged or accelerated use of opioids.
- Work with a team of well-trained claims professionals and nurse case managers who can coordinate efforts and make good decisions.
- Tap the expertise of clinical pharmacists and knowledgeable physicians.
“The ultimate goal is for a patient to physically recover, not to simply manage their pain. Once physicians consistently approach pain relief as a tool to help speed recovery, everything will change.”
— Dr. Robert Goldberg, Occupational Medicine Specialist and Chief Medical Officer, Healthesystems
Step 3 – Establish new medical policies and procedures
Clear policies and procedures that reflect the most current evidence-based medical guidelines are an important component of an up-to-date opioid strategy. Dr. Goldberg recommends payers revise policies and procedures to:
- Approve opioids only when appropriate, per current evidence-based guidelines.
- Approve alternative therapies such as cognitive behavior therapy and physical therapy to reduce reliance on pain medication when appropriate.
New policies and procedures should delineate:
- The jurisdictional and professional guidelines that will be applied.
- What circumstances will trigger clinical interventions — such as MED levels, a defined number of prescriptions or prescribers or other factors.
- Which cases will be escalated for higher level clinical intervention — such as claims that reach a certain dollar value or involve certain complex conditions or injuries.
- Which tools and interventions will be deployed and by whom.
Step 4 – Deploy precisely timed tools
An updated opioid strategy should include a robust suite of tools and clinical expertise, as well as define how and when to use them to help keep opioid therapies on track. Claims organizations need a strategic PBM partner with a robust toolkit and a deep bench of clinical expertise to guide them in deploying tools such as:
- Alerts to pharmacies and claims organizations about issues involving prescription dosing, quantities, early refills and other concerns.
- Monitoring and analyzing MED levels to ensure patient safety.
- Real-time therapeutic interventions as part of a prior-authorization process to help prevent risks.
- Letters of medical necessity that document the need for opioid therapy.
- Informed consent forms that alert injured workers to the risks associated with opioid therapy.
- Pain contracts with injured workers that detail what is expected of them while they are receiving opioid therapy.
- Peer-to-peer interventions by clinical pharmacists or physicians.
- Screening and assessment tools for substance abuse, opioid risks, depression, pain and other conditions that contraindicate opioid therapy.
- Compliance monitoring programs using urine drug testing.
- Drug regimen reviews.
An opioid strategy that focuses on achieving functional improvement will yield benefits for the payer, patient and employer that include:
- Reduced length and cost of opioid drug treatment
- Reduced adverse effects of treatment
- Enhanced recovery
- Increased likelihood that the injured worker will return to work quickly
- Decreased temporary and permanent disability
- Reduced overall medical and total case costs
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Healthesystems. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.
Making the Grade
Taking the time to match a tough job with a worker who can actually do it reduces the potential for costly workplace injuries, employers are now finding.
That concept is leading more employers to study their essential job functions and test the ability of job candidates, particularly when a job requires a new hire to perform functions known to cause injuries.
Increased nationwide hiring, the rising cost of treating workplace injuries and a less physically fit job applicant pool are driving more employers to employ the practice known as post-offer employment testing.
Post-offer employment testing, or POET, involves simulating the lifting, pushing, pulling and other physical activities that make up a job’s essential functions. Employers are increasingly making employment offers conditional upon a job applicant’s physical ability to perform those activities.
And in another recent trend, employers are expanding the strategy to help determine when to return an established employee to their duties following a workplace injury or a non-occupational disability leave.
“Pre-work screens are not a good strategy if your injuries are coming three years into employment.”
–Drew Bossen, founder, Atlas Ergonomics
At Cooper Standard, the Novi, Mich.-based automobile parts manufacturer, for example, workers desiring a strenuous job first participate in “simulated work.” That helps determine whether they are physically capable of performing the real job, said Patricia Hostine, the company’s global manager of workers’ compensation.
A job requiring continual force to press rubber hose into a mold that forms radiator hoses is desirable because it is one of the better paying tasks the auto parts manufacturer offers, Hostine added.
But it’s also one of the company’s most physically demanding roles.
“It’s very hard work,” Hostine said. “That is where a lot of our injuries are found.”
After performing the simulated work, more applicants decide against taking the job than the company disqualifies. That’s because the testing showed them they couldn’t do the job anyway.
Cooper Standard also requires a functional evaluation, conducted by physical therapists, for any worker who has been away from work either because of a workplace injury or a non-occupational disability.
That requires employees who normally form radiator hoses to show that they are once again physically capable of performing the work after returning from an absence.
Employers that have benefited from conducting POET evaluations for newly hired employees are increasingly adopting a similar worker evaluation as part of their return-to-work programs, several experts said.
“Historically, these [physical evaluations] have been used at the point of offer, at the point of employment,” said Drew Bossen, a physical therapist and founder of Atlas Ergonomics. “But in the last 12 months, we have clients formulating methodologies to use them for return to work as well.”
Data from an initial POET exam can also provide a measured baseline of an employee’s abilities that can be reviewed post injury to help determine when the worker has regained their ability to return to their original job, or whether they should take up other duties.
Using data that way can reduce return-to-work durations by providing support for a doctor’s determination to release their patient.
Most employers using a POET system, however, still use it only to test newly hired workers.
Evaluating whether potential new hires have the physical ability to perform certain tasks can substantially reduce a company’s injury rate because newer workers typically account for a greater number of injuries than their more-experienced counterparts, POET advocates said.
Data compiled by the National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc. showed that workers on the job less than a year in 2007 accounted for nearly 34 percent of injuries although they made up only 23 percent of the labor force.
“Pre-work screens are not a good strategy if your injuries are coming three years into employment,” Bossen said.
Now, as the U.S. Labor Department reports increased hiring across the country, vendors that provide physical ability testing programs said they are seeing increased demand, which had dropped off during the recession.
“We have seen a big uptick in companies interested in doing this across all industries,” including transportation, mining and health care, said Connie Vaughn-Miller, vice president of business development for BTE Technologies.
The testing may be more beneficial for the most strenuous types of work.
Hostine at Cooper Standard said, for example, that she does not see a cost/benefit advantage for testing workers engaged in light production jobs.
Most employers adopting a POET strategy do so for certain positions and many start with a pilot program, experts said. It’s best to decide which job categories to include in a pilot program by reviewing the company’s claims history to pinpoint where injury frequency and severity are problems. Or, they recommend starting with the company’s most physically demanding jobs, then add others if the pilot results warrant doing so.
“We can’t be a better place to work if we’re hiring people that are not able to perform the job. That’s bad for the company and the associate.”
–Libby Christman, vice president of risk management, Ahold USA.
Making Work Safer
“One of our company promises is to be a better place to work,” said Libby Christman, vice president of risk management at Ahold USA.
“We can’t be a better place to work if we’re hiring people that are not able to perform the job. That’s bad for the company and the associate.”
Ahold is a retailer with about 120,000 employees operating stores under the names of Stop & Shop, Giant Food Stores, Martin’s Food Markets, and Peapod, an online grocery ordering unit.
Late last year, Ahold launched a pilot program for Peapod delivery drivers and for certain strenuous jobs in two warehouses, Christman said. The warehouse jobs require pushing, pulling, bending and lifting.
Since September, Christman has found that about 25 percent of job applicants could not pass its physical demands test. Screening for an employee capable of doing the job, though, not only reduces injuries, but improves productivity.
“We know that obtaining an accurate assessment of an applicant’s physical abilities can help us place him or her in a suitable job, potentially eliminate injuries and ensure efficiency and performance on the job,” Christman said.
Stepped-up hiring is not the only factor driving employer demand for POET services, observers said.
Employers — continually pushing for more sophisticated safety measures in the face of an aging, more obese, and less physically fit U.S. workforce — are also driving the demand, BTE Technologies’ Vaughn-Miller said.
The Discrimination Question
Employers cannot discriminate when hiring, but they can legally ask a worker to demonstrate that they can meet the physical demands of a job’s essential functions, experts said.
That requires careful analysis, however, to clearly understand a job’s essential functions, so the designed test measures just those functions and does not go beyond evaluating a worker’s ability to perform those specific tasks.
Employers have run afoul of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when implementing POET programs that evaluated for abilities beyond those required by the job.
If employees must lift 75 pounds only once a year, and can use a mechanical lift assist to help them when they do so, then testing to see whether a worker can lift 75 pounds is not a fair test, advised Colleen M. Britz, managing director and ergonomics practice leader for Marsh Risk Consulting.
Employers may also face discrimination complaints if they do not require a POET evaluation of everyone seeking a specific job, experts warned.
The tests themselves, however, vary substantially, depending on the vendor or employer providing them.
Some resemble gym equipment with electronic systems for measuring a worker’s strength and agility. Those results can then be compared to computerized measurements of a task. Other tests may be as simple as requiring a worker to lift bags of sand.
“I do consider it a best practice to have a well-designed post-offer employment test that truly is measuring an employee’s capacity to meet physical demands,” Britz said. “It’s a matter, from my perspective, of whether some of the methodologies are truly testing that.”
The wide variation in testing methodology has hampered the collection of data on POET’s impact on overall employee injury rates across industries or multiple employers, experts said.
But individual employers have experienced success, Britz said.
“I don’t know of any company that has stopped doing POET after starting — because they are seeing a positive return on investment,” she added.
A physical abilities test helped Prince William County in Virginia mitigate a double loss driven by candidates seeking to become firefighters.
The county was losing tens of thousands of dollars on hiring and training costs each time a job candidate washed out of a 26-week training course simply because they could not perform the physical challenges firefighters face in the line of duty, said Tim Keen, assistant chief for the county’s Department of Fire and Rescue.
Because firefighting is a tough job, a lack of physical capability also contributed to recruit training injuries.
“Not only is it a hard job, but when you add all the gear they wear, their air packs, as well as the functional movements that it takes to accomplish certain tasks, it puts strains on the body,” Keen said.
Those strains became costly workers’ compensation claims when recruits could not return to an existing job as would occur after an established firefighter suffered an injury, added Lori Gray, the county’s risk management division chief. That forced the county to continue paying workers’ compensation benefits to recruits who did not have a job to return to.
So in 2003, the risk management and fire department helped the county establish its own facility where applicants wanting to become firefighters must first participate in a standardized Candidate Physical Ability Test.
The International Association of Fire Fighters and the International Association of Fire Chiefs developed the CPAT test the county licenses.
The test used by fire departments across the country requires candidates to climb stairs while wearing weight vests, drag hoses and simulated bodies, simulate forcing their way into a building, and conduct other physical feats within a certain time period.
“There are a variety of firefighting tasks they must go through in this course,” Keen said. The course tests their aerobic capabilities, their flexibility, core strength, and upper and lower body fitness.
The test’s standardization ensures it is true to the firefighter’s actual work role and that is legal and fair to all candidates, he added.
“Regardless of age or gender the course is the same for everybody,” he said.
“The test is appropriate so you are not losing people due to injuries, especially early in their careers, Keen said. “It’s the right thing to do, making sure they are physically capable of doing the job.”
The screenings have resulted in fewer recruits lost due to a lack of physical ability.
“We have also seen a huge reduction in the number of injuries that were occurring because recruits are coming in more physically fit to do the job,” Keen said.
POET advocates said the screening results have other applications as well.
In some cases, post-offer physical test results provide employers with a defense in permanent disability cases, Britz said.
In states allowing employers to apportion responsibility for permanent disability claims, for example, the baseline results from the initial post-offer exam can limit an employer’s liability by showing that a worker lost only a certain portion of their functional ability during their employment tenure.
Britz added that she expects to see more large, sophisticated employers counter rising claims severity driven by factors such as aging and obesity by integrating their ergonomics, wellness intervention and physical ability testing programs.
For example, an employee returning from a leave might undergo a fitness for duty exam to evaluate their ability to perform the job without injuring themselves.
Simultaneously, the employee could be referred to the employer’s wellness program to address health-related issues such as high body mass index or to learn exercises that would strengthen certain body parts, such as their shoulders, if frequently used in their daily work routines.
“That is the evolution of post-offer employment testing into fitness-for-duty programs,” she said.
“Not so they lose the job, but to recognize that this person needs to work on shoulder strength. So we create an opportunity to increase shoulder strength. I think that is going to be the wave of the future.”
From Drones to Defects: Planning for Construction’s Top Challenges
The construction industry is firing on all cylinders. New projects spring up every day, but not all go according to plan.
Three out of every four construction projects fail to finish on time. Every party involved – owners, designers, contractors and subcontractors – expects perfection, with the final product delivered on schedule and on budget. Those expectations leave little room for uncertainty, so even a small hiccup can have ripple effects that disrupt a project for everyone.
“There’s often a big disconnect on the front end of project planning,” said Doug Cauti, Senior Vice President, National Insurance, Chief Underwriting Officer, Construction, Liberty Mutual.
Proactive risk mitigation is also important to manage emerging challenges facing the construction industry ‒ drone regulations are evolving, commercial auto losses are rising, and so is uncertainty about which party might be held responsible for a construction defect. Without the proper planning, these issues can easily be overlooked and result in major losses and project disruption.
Liberty Mutual’s Doug Cauti discusses key challenges facing the construction market.
“Key risk management strategies have to be aligned among all parties from the beginning to minimize these uncertainties.”
Before construction begins, there are actions that project owners, designers and contractors can take to address these challenges and better protect their projects and businesses:
Drones can be useful tools on construction sites, providing an extra set of “eyes” for large commercial projects or tall buildings. They provide a real time aerial glimpse of works in progress, giving supervisors an added perspective to spot potential flaws, assess safety hazards, and check on workers. But many challenges remain in the safe — and legal — operation of drones.
Liberty Mutual’s interactive infographic highlights risks related to managing drones at construction sites, and also includes a pre-planning drone use guide and a pre-flight checklist that includes making sure to review the latest drone regulations.
How construction buyers can manage the insurance implications of using drones in their operations.
General contractors and project owners need to stay up to speed on FAA regulations, which changed in August, 2016.
“For one thing, operators need to have the drone in sight at all times,” Cauti said.
“And you need to make sure any operators are appropriately licensed and trained, that the drones are regularly maintained, and that the machines don’t impede on others’ safety and privacy.”
Clear flight paths and work zone boundaries can minimize the risk of a drone striking another property, or worse, a person. Operators should also know how to conduct an emergency landing if the drone suddenly loses power. It’s also important to consider how you are going to manage and use drone footage. Advertising liability can be a concern if third party images are captured and released. Know who is in charge of the data collected, who has access to it, and how you are going to protect it.
“If the contractor owns the drone, it takes on more liability. The contractor should review its insurance policies to make sure the coverage will respond to that risk,” Cauti said.
“As an insurance carrier, we may have a role to play in those proactive discussions. We are uniquely positioned to help project stakeholders see their risks and work to minimize them.”
— Doug Cauti, Senior Vice President, National Insurance, Chief Underwriting Officer, Construction, Liberty Mutual Insurance
Contractors and project owners can protect themselves through enhancements to their commercial general liability policies or through separate aviation policies, he said.
If a general contractor leases a drone through a third party, “they bear the responsibility of making sure the vendor is fully insured,” Cauti said. Vendors should have “non-owned” aviation coverage with limits suitable to handle the size of the risk.
Commercial auto losses challenge many business sectors, and construction is no exception.
More vehicles on the road and more miles driven, combined with fewer experienced commercial drivers, are driving up the frequency of accidents. On construction sites in particular, congestion created by closed roads, piles of materials and roving heavy machinery may lead to work zone accidents. Rising medical costs and repair and replacement costs of high-tech vehicles increase claim severity.
“I don’t see this trend reversing any time soon,” Cauti said.
Mitigating commercial auto losses begins with driver hiring practices.
“Pay attention to who you put behind the wheel,” Cauti said.
“Motor vehicle reports (MVRs) and driving history can alert employers to previous accidents or tickets. But there also needs to be regular communication with the drivers you do hire, and clear protocols in place that define expectations of how the job should be performed,” he added.
Ways construction buyers can manage rising commercial auto loss costs and better protect their fleets and employees.
Those protocols include requiring the use of seat belts, prohibiting cell phone use while behind the wheel, mandating scheduled breaks, outlining maintenance procedures, defining if company vehicles can be used for personal use, and establishing crash report procedures that delineate who to contact and what information to collect in the event of an accident.
Contractors can also monitor fleet performance through telematics systems. These on-board systems can track unsafe driving behaviors like hard braking, sharp turns, and speeding. But the data is only as good as the person analyzing it. Contractors and project owners should partner with an insurer who can use fleet telematics data effectively to pinpoint common causes of accidents and recommend specific risk mitigation strategies.
Liberty Mutual’s Managing Vital Driving Performance is one tool that leverages insureds existing telematics data to identify unsafe driving behaviors and accident patterns.
“Our risk control consultants can drill deeper into the data and interview drivers to identify patterns and find out the root causes of bad driving behaviors in the first place,” Cauti said.
For example, a post-accident interview with a driver could reveal that he had been skipping breaks and spending too many hours on the road, leading to fatigue and inattentive driving.
Identifying those connections enables consultants to make specific risk mitigation recommendations, such as adjusting drivers’ schedules and workloads to reduce overtime, or adjusting dispatch protocols so employers can ensure drivers aren’t working too many shifts in a short period of time.
Another uncertainty project owners, designers and contractors have to face is how insurance coverage will apply should a project end up in a dispute. “The struggle is around the definition of ‘faulty workmanship’ and who is responsible for the defect. Is it in the design or the build?” Cauti said.
“There can be a lot of finger pointing involved. This reinforces the need for contractors to have a systematic quality assurance (QA) program that adheres to best practices, and for every party to have a role in it.”
Elements of a QA program could include testing of construction materials, conducting regular walk-throughs and obtaining approvals from the owner at key phases, and final sign-off by the owner at the project’s completion.
How construction defects and the current legal climate are affecting projects.
Construction defect claims can affect a business’s reputation, profits, and ability to maintain insurance coverage. That’s why it’s so important to be vigilant about avoiding construction defects, whether you’re a designer, developer, owner or general contractor.
Ultimately, though, these risks should be addressed before ground is broken. Discussing these challenges and collaborating on loss prevention strategies up front reduces the likelihood that any “hiccups” will throw off project timelines or increase costs for the various stakeholders.
Pre-planning discussions also offer the opportunity for these parties to take advantage of carrier partners’ risk control services.
“As an insurance carrier, we may have a role to play in those proactive discussions,” Cauti said.
“We are uniquely positioned to help project stakeholders see their risks and work to minimize them.”
To learn more about Liberty Mutual’s solutions for the construction industry, visit https://business.libertymutualgroup.com/business-insurance/industries/construction-insurance-coverage.
 Managing Uncertainty and Expectations in Building Design and Construction SmartMarket Report
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty Mutual Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.