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What role do GPs have in supporting work participation?


Morgan Liotta


28/07/2021 3:22:58 PM

New resources aim to provide further support when navigating the ‘extremely complex’ process.

Man with broken leg
Following work-related injury, GPs are well placed to promote the benefits of recovery and long-term health outcomes from work participation.

According to national work health and safety and workers’ compensation authority Comcare, long-term work absence, work disability and unemployment can have significant impact on the long-term health and wellbeing of the employees, as well as their families and wider community.
 
As providers of holistic care, GPs are ideally placed to promote the health benefits of good work, assessing and advising work capacity.
 
The Collaborative Partnership to improve work participation, chaired by Comcare, have developed Australia’s first national Principles on the role of the GP in supporting work participation (the Principles), recognised as an RACGP supported position statement.
 
The Principles have been developed following extensive stakeholder consultation with GPs and health professionals, the disability sector, unions, employers, employees, benefits and income support providers and academics.
 
They are designed to support evidence that work is an important social determinant of health, and participating in ‘good work’ is health protective, contributes to improved self-esteem and a sense of identify, and provides social and financial benefits to individuals, their families and the community. 
 
Defining and guiding the role of GPs in facilitating the health benefits of good work, the Principles highlight GPs’ central role in the delivery of healthcare and supporting long-term health and social outcomes, including supporting work participation for people with disability or chronic conditions.

However, RACGP Expert Committee – Practice Technology and Management member Dr Steven Kaye says some GPs may find the process of supporting patients’ work participation difficult to navigate.

‘GP consultations relating to work injury − physical or mental − can be extremely complex, requiring appropriate time allocation to be performed at a high level,’ he told newsGP.

‘Evidence-based, new information regarding cotemporary methodology about workplace injuries can be difficult to pass on to busy, time-poor GPs. Workplace injuries often require delicate written or verbal communication with the employer, insurance company or other clinicians, which can [also] be challenging for some GPs.’
 
To address these issues and further guide GPs on managing work-related injury, Comcare have developed a one-page guide outlining the recovery pathway for an injured worker.
 
The guide provides an overview of the:

  • workers’ compensation process
  • key timeframes to consider within the claims process
  • statutory function of medical practitioners
  • roles of case managers/return-to-work coordinators and employer obligations
  • critical elements to successfully complete certificates of capacity.
The guide acknowledges the role GPs play in the rehabilitation and return to work of people who have been injured at work, or who have experienced an illness that has impacted their work, with the role continuing throughout recovery.
 
Dr Kaye said the Comcare resources give GPs a framework that applies to many workplace injury consultations.
 
‘The availability of extra services, [such as] psychology, psychiatry, occupational health physician assessment, workplace assessment, etcetera, and directions to evidence-based protocols are often unknown – the [one-page] guide will help this,’ he said.
 
One aspect of the role of the GP is to complete a Certificate of Capacity.
 
The certificate is a ‘communication tool’ for GPs and other healthcare providers, the employee and their employer. They collaborate to understand the employee’s work capacity and how they can continue to participate in work throughout their illness or injury.
 
Dr Kaye believes cross-collaboration is an important step in the return-to-work process and when compensation claims are being made.
 
‘The vast majority of workers’ compensation medical consultations are performed by GPs, indicating that the role of GPs following work injury is critical,’ he said.
 
‘The assessment, management, planning and information collation − from specialists, allied health practitioners, employers and insurers − to enable an engaged and informed patient the opportunity to recover from injury and return to work is a pivotal role that GP’s are ideally positioned to perform.
 
‘The interest and knowledge of the patient’s physical, psychological, social or workplace issues enable the GP to provide effective treatment while incorporating the principals of recovery and the benefits of remaining at work.’
 
When a patient presents with work-related injury, GPs are responsible for completing necessary documents such as medical certificates, medical reports and treating practitioner questionnaires.
 
Before finalising these documents, GPs must also complete a thorough medical assessment.
 
The Comcare resources outline GPs’ place in setting recovery and return-to-work expectations. Based on information and evidence gathered from the patient, other specialists and the patient’s employer, GPs can make an assessment to inform the patient/employer of appropriate work duties and hours.
 
This is in addition to providing recommendations and referral to treatment and other therapeutic interventions to support the patient’s recovery – all of which GPs are well accustomed to, according to Dr Kaye.
 
‘Treating work injuries is a special skill that most GPs possess already,’ he said.
 
‘The application of modern, evidence-based methods and techniques should be encouraged and incentivised to obtain the best outcomes.’
 
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