Research from Duke University and NCCI has found obese employees experience more than twice the number of claims, had 13 times as many lost workdays, and at a cost of 2.8 times more than non-obese employees. Turning a blind eye to the issue is not an answer.
"It affects every state. It's not going away," said Kevin Glennon, vice president of clinical services at Total Medical Solutions. By being cognizant of the issues and taking proactive steps, he says employers can do a better job helping their obese workers and save themselves money.
A registered nurse by background, Glennon presents extensively on the topic of obesity and workers' comp. He said employers need to be aware of the many issues that can drive claims costs higher for obese workers.
One of the biggest issues is co-morbidities affecting obese workers. Glennon suggests employers encourage wellness and fitness among all employees.
"Bring a nurse on-site or even do a mini health fair to check blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels," he said. "If you can identify people who are borderline hypertensive or diabetic, you can institute nutritional counseling programs or get them the appropriate medical care they need."
Scrutinize community resources. "I tell employers and carriers, you've got to know what your resources are in your community," he said. "We use a benchmark of 250 pounds, which most equipment will support. But if you have an employee above that, understand you will need to have heavy-duty or bariatric equipment if they are injured."
Glennon related a story of an injured worker who spent unnecessary hours waiting for equipment and a hospital that could accommodate his size and weight.
"If you have a 300-pound worker and need to call an ambulance, you'll have to alert the ambulance company that regular responders won't be able to get him on the stretcher," he said. "It's important to know what health care facilities in your area can accommodate the heavy workers."
Durable medical equipment. Employers and insurers also need to consider the equipment that might be needed for obese injured workers as they recover. "An obese worker with any type of injury may not have the physical upper body strength to utilize crutches," he said. "If they have an injury to a lower extremity, they won't be able to walk on crutches. The other leg can't handle all their weight without risking a fracture to the other foot or blowing out the other knee."
Glennon said a wheelchair would likely be necessary which could create accessibility issues. "You may need to think of a temporary ramping facility" in the person's office or home.
Scrimping on durable medical equipment is unadvisable since that may lead to a reinjury or additional injuries. "The longer it takes [the worker] to recover increases your indemnity," he said.
Surgery concerns. If surgery is recommended, Glennon advises getting a functional evaluation with a physical therapist beforehand to determine the employee's endurance level. "I see so often someone goes in for surgery and the next thing, they're not making progress and are labeled noncompliant," he said. "The real issue is the person couldn't do five minutes of exercise before surgery."
He advises putting such workers on a program to build up their endurance before they undergo surgery. "If they weren't strong before [the surgery] there's an additional hurdle of needing to recondition them before you can begin the rehabilitation phase."
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
October 25, 2010
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