Safety inside and outside of the workplace has become increasingly crucial now, more than ever. With the global pandemic underway, the National Safety Council (NSC) is focused on saving lives and preventing injuries by providing real-time, relevant sources on a variety of topics relating to keeping workers safe during this time.
But what happens if you or someone you know does get injured on the job? We sat down with Alana Montgomery, Family Nurse Practitioner at the Delta County Memorial Hospital (DCMH) Urgent Care and experienced workers’ compensation professional, to answer your most commonly asked questions regarding workman’s comp.
Q: What is workman’s comp and how does it work?
Montgomery: I have been doing workman’s comp for 25 years now and every state does it differently. If someone gets hurt on the job or if they have an underlying issue related to the job, then they come in to see a health care professional. We ask them to fill out a special form that asks them specifics on their injury, such as what happened and what kind of health problems are they experiencing. Then, we treat the patient.
Usually, patients will just need one visit to a workman’s compensation provider because they just need to know they are OK and can go back to work, but sometimes certain patients require more intensive treatment. This can look like x-rays if they fractured something or certain medications, physical therapy, etc. It is our job to set up those treatment options for them. Some patients who require more than two visits and who need further treatment like surgery or diagnostic testing would see a workman’s comp physician who would then take over the treatment and care for the patient to get them back to hopefully full functioning.
In this area the client will come in and we will start the workup and generally we do a follow-up to make sure that they’re doing well before we release them back to full duty. We want to make sure that they had good results with whatever treatment options we gave them.
Q: Can I go to anyone for my workman’s comp health care?
Montgomery: Who you can receive care from depends on your employer’s workman’s comp insurance. It is best to find someone who is a certified workman’s comp provider and who is covered by your insurance.
Q: What is your number one goal when you get a new workman’s comp patient?
Montgomery: My number one goal is to make sure that they can return back to work in a safe environment and that they are well enough to do so. My goal is actually not to take patients off from work, but to get them back to work. Let’s say I have a patient who injured their back, they didn’t fracture it or have neurological problems, but they aren’t able to do heavy lifting at work, I will suggest putting them back to work with restrictions; such as no lifting 5 or 10 pounds for a certain time limit. We then follow up to make sure they’re given the proper time for their back to heal before returning them to their regular duties. Usually their employer will find alternative jobs for them to do until they’re back or injury is feeling better.
My goal is always to keep them at work not to keep them from work – worse things happen when people stay home, such as depression. We want to take the preventative steps to prevent that from happening.
Q: Why would you rather your patients get back to work than stay at home?
Montgomery: Studies have shown that years ago when someone had a back injury and we’d keep them home on bed rest, they didn’t recover as well. The understanding is that you don’t want your patients to stop their activities; instead, you want to stop the activities that cause increased pain. You want your patients to heal faster. You don’t want them to be at home where they don’t heal as fast.
Another reason is that when people are on workman’s comp, they typically don’t get the same amount of money as they typically would and this can cause stress and worry regarding bills. So it’s actually better for me to send them back to work, knowing that they’ll heal faster when they are active and feeling a sense of normalcy.
Q: Who is part of the workman’s comp care team?
Montgomery: It depends on the injuries. If they come in here and if I have someone with say, an animal bite and has an infection it might require a surgeon to debride them. So it just depends on what the patient comes in for. If it’s something simple like foreign bodies in the eye, then we can remove them and get them on medication and then follow up with them to make sure the treatment worked.
There are some patients that require further treatment from doctors or physical therapists, sometimes diagnostic tests like x-rays and occasionally if there was more damage, an MRI. If a patient needs something like a CT scan and need a higher level of care beyond the second visits, then they can see a physician that would order those tests for them.
On average, a patient will see us one to two times and then they’re usually good to go back to work. There is that rare 10 to five percent of patients that require more advanced case, and so we utilize most services needed, depending on the injury.
Q: How does prevention come into play in the work you do?
Montgomery: A lot of times if someone has something like a strained neck or back, it’s fairly straight forward. In those cases we can show them preventative exercises that they can do such as extensions and stretches for their back until it starts healing so that they don’t have another back strain. Sometimes we suggest ergonomics for people that work on computers and give them advice on screen height or the type of chair they should use. If someone comes in with an eye issue then we talk to them about eye safety and wearing goggles or glasses. We try to talk to each patient about the things they can do to help prevent them from having another injury.
Q: What would you say to the people who feel there is a stigma attached to seeking help for workman’s comp?
Montgomery: I try to explain to them that they’re doing a job or service for their company and for their community and for themselves. They shouldn’t have to handle this on their own and there are some mechanisms in place to make sure that they are healthy and that they have a safe environment to work in and that it’s not their fault.
A lot of people blame themselves and say they were clumsy, but we all can’t control the outside factors that can contribute to our injury. It’s important for people to understand that a lot of times it’s not their fault – they still need to get well. We all get hurt sometimes and we should all have the ability to get well before having a long term disability because of an injury or because we didn’t seek treatment.
It’s important that when people get hurt, they’re at least getting checked out; even if it’s something simply because it can affect them later.
Alana Montgomery is a Family Nurse Practitioner at DCMH Urgent Care and is an experienced workman’s comp professional. DCMH Urgent Care, Family Medicine, Internal Medicine Associates, West Elk Clinics in Hotchkiss and Paonia. If you have questions about our workman comp services, please visit call us at 970.874.7681.
The information provided in this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The content in this article is for general information purposes only. Please talk to your primary care physician.