Leveraging analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance employer return to work programs

by Contributor09 Nov 2018

by Heather Matthews and Reed Hanoun

Whether it be from an illness or injury, supporting employees through return to work efforts is important to both employees and employers. Statistics show that if an injured employee does not return to work within three months after sustaining an injury, the likelihood that he/she will never return to work is 90%.[1] Although injury and illness are just two components of absenteeism they contribute to the $16 billion a year cost to Canadian companies.[2]

Research shows that returning to work speeds up the injured worker’s healing process; therefore, it is in the best interest of injured workers to proactively pursue return to work.[3] A report by the Conference Board of Canada states that employees do not have sufficient confidence that employers will support their return to work should they sustain an injury or develop an illness. Fewer than 4 in 10 employees (39%) believe that their organization has programs in place to help keep them at work instead of requiring a leave of absence when they are experiencing health issues.[4]

Both the employee and employer stand to lose from poor or ineffective return to work programs and therefore employers should develop or update their programs to increase their success rate. With developments in technology positively impacting society in many ways, can technology facilitate return to work efforts? Well, some innovative and industry-leading software are doing just that.

Crawford EmployerWORKS™, powered by MyAbilities, is a software solution that effectively addresses many of the challenges associated with traditional approaches of conducting physical demands analysis, preventive ergonomics, claim and medical management practices, and job matching after injury or illness. 

Removing communication barriers
In the management of a disability claim, traditionally the electronic version of the claim is housed in one system. Communications between the claimant, case manager, employer, physicians, therapists and any other parties involved in the recovery and rehabilitation process typically occur outside of the claims system through phone, email, and fax and are recorded in the electronic claim file along with any supporting documentation (i.e. an electronic copy of the communication such as an email, medical reports, etc.). This process is reliant on human time and effort to input all of the necessary information to facilitate proper claim assessment and determination of an action plan. Consequently, there is also a time lag between information being shared, reviewed and approved.

With the EmployerWORKS software, all pertinent parties in a claim have real-time interactive access to vital claim information. The platform contains a comprehensive digital job profile, causation analysis tool, psychosocial risk screen, capabilities assessment for return to work (RTW) determinations from physicians, therapists and more.  In this way interactions between all the necessary parties in a claim are streamlined, centralized and to a great extent automated, eliminating the need for re-entry of communication details and unnecessary lag times.

Enhanced understanding of demands of specific jobs
A common problem for employers, insurers, physicians and therapists has been a limited understanding of the functional demands of a job, and the means to accurately establish workers’ abilities, whether it be for on-the-job training, ergonomic modifications, return to work programs, or claim and medical management and impairment rating.

The EmployerWORKS software addresses this issue. It contains a centralized database that houses over 30,000 job profiles, spanning every industry, and which can be further customized if necessary to meet each employer’s needs.  The digital job profile (DJP) is a sophisticated and quantitative physical demands analysis, based on extensive industry research, which incorporates the physical, cognitive and environmental demands of a job. It documents by body region all of the physical demands of a job by function and tasks, and provides comparative intensity scores that can warn of potential risks that employers should mitigate. The Digital Job Profiles replace the text-based job descriptions which are customarily used.  It serve as an excellent tool for systematically accomplishing all of the employer and tasks listed above.

In regard to ergonomic task analysis numerous researchers have proposed using computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI) to help speed up and increase the accuracy of video-based task analysis. Research has proven that using computer vision and AI approaches will help practitioners improve accuracy and identify risks in the workplace[5], as well as increase the objectivity and speed of their analyses (Akkas et al., 2017). The EmployerWORKS system offers the opportunity to harness the power of artificial intelligence by uploading a video of a worker performing his/her job tasks and yielding an automated kinematic report and PDAi.  This will be used to create a database of PDAs for the employer, and to monitor treatment progress during and at the conclusion of the rehab program, comprising a virtual functional capacity evaluation (FCE). The EmployerWORKS PDAi system will identify the worker’s joints and kinematics, provide a list of the physical demands the worker is performing, and the percentage of cycle time they are spending in high risk postures. Through leveraging this system with the right professional expertise, it can assist employers in developing more successful and tailored return to work programs. Utilizing these approaches allows EmployerWORKS to efficiently and cost-effectively enhance the claim and medical management process.

Supporting claim adjusters and case managers
The DJP alone is of enormous value to these professionals who often need to “make do” with poor, or non-existent, job descriptions. Now they have complete, current, user-friendly profiles to guide their efforts, make sound decisions and share with internal staff and health providers.

However, EmployerWORKS also recognizes the need for advanced, automated online resources to address the needs of claim adjusters, case managers as well as treating and reviewing clinicians.

The platform has incorporated several tools that can be used in tandem with the DJP to optimally manage a claim. The first of these is our proprietary causation analysis. Deciding whether a particular injury or illness is of occupational or non-occupational origin can be difficult, and, unfortunately, errors are often made in this critical process, with costly repercussions.  Based on evidence-based medical research, this tool offers a series of questions, customized to any of thirty diagnoses, which yield an automated, online display of the factors favoring either occ or non-occ causation, as well as their relative strength. This can alert claim adjusters to claims that may require additional scrutiny before entitlement confirmation. 

In our industry that biological factors alone do not explain wide variations in recovery and RTW among claimants with similar injuries and illnesses. This validated tool identifies those individuals with high-risk scores who may benefit from intensified management, and consideration of psychological interventions such as cognitive behavior therapy. Due to matters of privacy and confidentiality this is component of the software is specific to case managers or adjudicators as opposed to employers.

Sustaining return to work efforts through self assessments
Presume that you have taken all the right steps and have successfully returned an employee to work, as an employer your attention is then turned to keeping that employee productive and at work ensuring reinjure does not occur. The traditional approach would be to have an occupational therapist or kinesiologist meet with the worker and employer, gain an understanding of the condition / restrictions / worker’s stature etc., review physical work positions (often videotaping) and then provide recommendations.

With EmployerWORKS, office ergonomics and work station risk is addressed through a self-assessment of each employee’s work environment with recommendations provided to correct any errors that could cause unnecessary strain or reinjury. Specific video training can be provided to the employee guiding them through best ergonomic practices, specific to their unique case. Tied to the video training is an assessment piece for the employee to complete to ensure job tasks are being done correctly. For office positions, if there were any issues that could not be addressed through adjustment, the software offers equipment recommendations customized to the worker to optimize workstation ergonomics. The underlining medical research that was used to develop this functionality of the software has been utilized by other 21 academic institutions and cited in research 73 times, speaking to the software’s scientific validity.

With the leveraging of adaptive and innovative technologies available for employers and claim adjusters, return to work process can be substantially simplified, expedited and can yield very favourable returns for both the employee and employer.

 

[3] Ibid  “Return to Work: A Foundational Approach to Return to Function,”

[5] Greene, R. L., Azari, D. P., Hu, Y. H., & Radwin, R. G. (2017). Visualizing stressful aspects of repetitive motion tasks and opportunities for ergonomic improvements using computer vision. Applied ergonomics, 65, 461-472.