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Workplace rehabilitation: Is it that important?

01 April 2015 Lynne Molloy, RGA Reinsurance

Employee wellness has been a hot topic for some time. Even where formal programs are not in place, most employers use some means of encouraging healthy living and ultimately improved productivity. So how does this relate to workplace rehabilitation? This wellness focus has created a “win-win” opportunity for employers and insurers, where absenteeism and disability can be actively managed to improve productivity and reduce insurance claim costs.

Today, all major insurers have resources dedicated to workplace rehabilitation. Some insurers are so effective at this that they offer premium discounts on the back of future projected cost savings achieved through their ability to minimise preventable claims and boost Return To Work (RTW).

Effective strategies

How effective are insurers at achieving RTW? Results from the recent RGA Group Disability Income Terminations Study show that the rate at which disability income claimants are able to RTW has doubled over the past 10 years. This is particularly notable because it coincides with the insurance industry’s shift towards specialist disability management teams that began in the early- to mid-2000s. Today it is common to find nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and other medical specialists engaging with employers on behalf of insurers to provide guidance on effective RTW strategies.



The majority of group insurers have committed to workplace rehabilitation by incorporating elements as standard features in their products. Examples include RTW bonuses, rehabilitation allowances and partial benefits.

Whereas the introduction of workplace rehabilitation practices and product features drove past improvements in RTW, the future of workplace rehabilitation and sustaining great RTW results will be about achieving improved effectiveness of the disability management process.

Support and motivation

Our analysis demonstrates that after just three months of being away from the workplace, the likelihood of returning to work shrinks to 50% and after a year the likelihood drops to around 30%. Insurers with the most effective workplace rehabilitation programs emphasise proactive notification and getting involved as soon as possible - ideally, well before the end of the waiting period. In this way they are able to facilitate the treatment and support framework needed to help employees stay at work, when it matters most.

Once a potential claim has been identified, the likelihood of assisting an employee to RTW is notably improved by two key elements: the employer’s willingness to support and accommodate the claimant, and the claimant’s motivation to re-enter the workplace.

A clear example

Consider the case of a cleaner. A back condition results in the cleaner being unable to perform a fundamental part of his or her job, which is cleaning floors. The occupational therapist recommends installing a motorised cleaning machine to help the employee. The cost of a disability claim is R500 000 and the cost of the cleaning machine is R5 000. The benefit of installing the machine clearly outweighs the cost. However, this solution can only be successful if the employer is willing to support this change and the employee is motivated to adopt new skills and RTW.

Future improvements and partnerships

We have seen the evolution of a number of niche organisations that focus on providing specialist workplace rehabilitation and related support. These organisations have been able to achieve strong Return On Investment (ROI) through using technology and progressive medical solutions to reduce the risk of absenteeism, injury and disability in the workplace.

Globally, insurers have begun to consider how to apply big data techniques in this space. One particularly successful application involves using predictive analytics to rank claimants with regards to their likelihood of RTW so that specialist resources can be applied most efficiently. Effective workplace rehabilitation leads to lower claim costs, which lead to lower premiums. In a market where price is king, workplace rehabilitation can be a highly effective tool.

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