Physical therapy can be one of the biggest cost drivers of a workers’ comp claim. In addition to the treatment itself are the expenses for travel and the employee’s time away from work. Onsite clinics can reduce the expenditures. They are cost-prohibitive for all but the largest companies, but many organizations are starting to turn to an alternative that combines the need for easily accessible PT at a cost comparable to or lower than clinic-based therapy.
Called therapy on demand, onsite PT involves a physical therapist going to the injured worker’s worksite — or home, in some cases — setting up equipment he brings and spending an hour focused solely on a single injured employee. Contrary to what some industry practitioners fear, the logistics are fairly simple.
“All we really needed to provide was a room that looks like a big closet; a room big enough to fit a massage table,” said Sandra Palacio, a claims adjuster at Royal Caribbean International. “We had several meetings before we put this in place. We tested it out for the first week or two, got great feedback and have continued to use it. It’s been a great experience.”
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Royal Caribbean teamed up with OnSite Physio, a mobile physical medicine company, to treat injuries sustained by the cruise line’s newly hired dancers and actors who train at a Miami-based facility. With the need to keep the entertainers away from work as little as possible, onsite PT has been a natural fit.
“The dance studio is a unique system where they are only here for four to six weeks, so we need to have medical appointments on a fast basis,” Palacio said. “OSP has been great in that they come to us, get the person treated with PT, and injured workers are back doing their normal daily activities within an hour.”
The fact that the workers can stay at their workplace for treatment eliminates the costs for travel and lost work time. Some companies have reported savings of as much as 30% by using onsite PT services. One, Marriott International, will discuss the results it has seen during a session at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference & Expo, Dec. 2, in New Orleans. (For a reduced registration rate, visit www.onsite-physio.com.)
Among the cost savings reported are fewer PT appointments needed. The one-on-one attention given to each injured worker — often by the same therapist for the duration of the treatment — and being at his workplace allows the therapist to target each patient’s unique problems and job tasks, which can result in quicker recoveries.
“In a clinic, I might work with Mrs. Smith for 10 minutes, then Mr. so-and-so, then Mr. Brown. It’s this constant juggling act while you are in the clinic because, unfortunately, that’s just the model of outpatient PT,” said Daniel Sanchez, a physical medicine expert and a founder and VP of operations for OSP. Working onsite, “there is an ‘aha’ moment, when you realize you can do so much more with this injured worker than you ever could in a clinic. You have that one-on- one time with the patient so we get to really see and put into practice our treatment alongside what it is they do. We can perform therapy that is more meaningful, treatment that is work-related and more transferable to the real world. In a clinic, you have to simulate those things.”
A key difference between clinic-based PT and onsite is the focus on returning the employee to work. Sanchez makes the analogy of treating an athlete. “If the quarterback for the Jets gets a sprained ankle…what do they have onsite for the injured worker?” he asked. “They have people who specialize and treat them to get them back to their job. They are worried about whether the quarterback can get onto the field and do specific things. All of his treatment is around that.”
That same type of thinking is at play with onsite PT companies such as OSP. One of its clients, for example, is a solid waste disposal company. While the workers in that industry no longer do as much manual labor as they did years ago, workers nevertheless sustain injuries. Repetitive motion injuries to the hand or elbow are typical, as are twisted knees and sprained ankles from getting off a truck improperly.
“If I say, ‘this is a garbage worker,’ and I am in a clinic, I used to think I knew what that meant. Not until I did a ride along and looked at how they are pushing, pulling, spending time sitting in the heat, did I understand what the job entails,” Sanchez said. “In a clinic, I might have that worker going up and down steps. Onsite, I can train him right on that step. It’s the actual piece of equipment he uses, so his treatment is 100% functional. We’re taking the time to really understand what they do and tailor the therapy to it.”
While onsite PT is not necessarily the best option for every injured worker, advocates say it offers many advantages over clinic-based therapy. “I definitely see this as a great benefit to companies that have a lot of workers’ comp claims because they can have the worker at the office, have OSP come and within an hour that worker can be back to work instead of the worker having to leave the job early just because he has to travel early and probably is not able to return that day,” Palacio said.