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1 Reliably Determining Occupational Causation April 21, 2010 Dan Rafael Azar MD MPH QME Medical Director Alliance Occupational Medicine Santa Clara & Milpitas.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Reliably Determining Occupational Causation April 21, 2010 Dan Rafael Azar MD MPH QME Medical Director Alliance Occupational Medicine Santa Clara & Milpitas."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Reliably Determining Occupational Causation April 21, 2010 Dan Rafael Azar MD MPH QME Medical Director Alliance Occupational Medicine Santa Clara & Milpitas

2 2 Identifying Causation is Critical Impacts claim management Impacts source of medical treatment Impacts employee health Impacts liability for treatment Impacts future costs Impacts profitability Impacts morale Make the right decision as early as possible

3 3 Evaluation and Treatment is a Partnership –Employee-Patients –Employers –Carriers (adjusters) –Utilization Review –Medical Case Managers –Attorneys –WCAB judges –Legislature

4 4 Evaluation and Treatment is a Partnership We share goals (some of us) –Get the EE as well as possible as quickly as possible for the lowest cost –Goal: MMI (maximal medical improvement) –Goal: P&S (Permanent & Stationary)

5 5 Why use an Occ. Med. Clinic? Measure our success by case management –Causation determination –Disability management –Claims management –Cost effectiveness Responsible for quality of ancillary services In-house specialists are held to higher standard Personalize treatment for local employer Typically best choice for initial treatment

6 6 First Visit “Basics” 1.Diagnosis 2.Causation 3.Treatment

7 7 Treatment Philosophy Attitude of provider –Neutral in mind –Positive in attitude –Not pro-EE –Not pro-ER Thorough history taking –Fact finder –Active listener Thorough exam Thorough documentation –Fact organizer Synthesize treatment plan Lead, Communicate and Coordinate to Implement Plan –“It takes a team” –Define roles –Problem solve –Educate stakeholders generously

8 8 Treatment Philosophy Always strive to do the “right thing” = Speak the truth –WC serves a specific purpose –WC is not a safety net –Treating a non-occupational illness under WC is not “doing the EE a favor” Establish causation as AOE/COE –Arising Out of Employment –(occurring in the) Course Of Employment Probable cause –Not just “a possible cause” Significant contributor –Not trivial No patient-physician relationship exists until causation is resolved and treatment is started

9 9 First Visit Goal: put together a unbiased narrative that tells a believable story Fact collecting and organizing Develop a relationship with patient Dispel bias against “company doc” –Reflect comprehension –Express compassion

10 10 Thoroughness at First Visit Includes Reviewing All Available Information Authorization form from employer Patient description of injury mechanism Anatomic illustration of injured areas Basic current and past work history Clarify prior relevant medical history

11 11 History: Establishing Diagnosis, Causation and Pre-Injury Baseline  What happened?  No problems before then?  What makes it worse?  Ask for specific responses.  Ask questions until it makes sense  Check for non-occupational contributors  Check for consistency of causation: Worse at End of Day? Week? How does it feel on weekends, vacation?  Organize a time line for current injury –Include treatment received since onset of sx’s

12 12 History: Why now? It Should Make Sense: What changed in this EE’s life (at work or home) to trigger this injury? –Increased work volume? –Increased work hours (OT)? –Increased work pace? –Coworker laid off? –Coworker maternity/disability leave? –Relocating offices without correct ergonomics? Is there a clear causative relationship?  If it doesn’t “make sense” its non-occupational until proven otherwise

13 13 Identify Non-Industrial Contributors? Personal Medical Illnesses (diabetes, thyroid, degenerative) Hobbies: knitting, sewing Gardening / Home Projects / Remodeling Sports Family / Small Children / Dependent Adults School / Second Job Over-committed –Just too much –Many working mothers & homemakers –Unrealistic personal expectations –Poor interpersonal boundaries,

14 14 During History Listen for Anger Blaming Self pity Passive attitude Poor coping High perceived stress Poor boundaries (at work and home) –Excessive sense of responsibility –Inadequate rest and recovery –Life out of balance Poor self-care –Lack of regular exercise –Smoking –Diet (Skip to Slide 23)

15 15 Establish Impact on Function Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s) Impact on Work Duties? Clarify work functions These are additional clues to causation Look for association between painful activities and causation “What were you doing when you first noticed symptoms?”

16 16 History > Subjective Section of DFR / Report What? When? Where? Injury-relevant medical history –Prior treatment history –What worked? –Rate of recovery How is work impacted by injury? How is injury impacted by work? Contemplate –Differential Diagnoses –Causation & Apportionment –Treatment Plan Set stage for upcoming physical examination

17 17 Physical Examination: Confirm Diagnoses Define physical boundaries of injury Thinking: Differential Diagnoses = “Probable and Possible Dx’s” Identify medical red flags –Expedite care –Contact ER/Adjustor, ED, PMD, Specialist) Identify case management red flags: –Exam doesn’t fit history/mechanism –Exam suggests non-occupational pathology –Exam suggests supra-tentorial amplification

18 18 Objective / Examination Visual Observation during history –Pain with movement –Movement to relieve pain –Signs of excessive anxiety Active Range of Motion (AROM) Visualize painful area –Discoloration –Edema –Asymmetry Palpation –Tenderness –Bogginess (edema) –Fibrosis Provocative Testing –Tinel’s –Phalen’s –Impingement test –Signs of malingering –Symptom Exaggeration (conscious vs. unconscious)

19 19 During Examination Look for: Lack of aerobic fitness Lack of muscular development Advancing age –likelihood of injury increases as capacity and rate of healing decreases Poor general health

20 20 A = Assessment = Diagnoses Identify: Pathology (what’s wrong?) Extent of problem (define anatomic areas involved) Severity (mild, moderate, severe) –based on exam findings & impact on function Chronicity (acute, cumulative, pre-existing) Cause (non-occupational, degenerative)

21 21 Plan = Discussion & Treatment Discussion: –Describe how I arrived at diagnoses –Synthesis of Subjective and Objective –Differential Diagnosis –Differential Causation –Explain pathology and relationship to most reasonable mechanism of injury –Acknowledge all relevant diagnoses –Acknowledge impact of non-occupational dx’s –“What it isn’t” (e.g. not CTS, not C-radiculopathy)

22 22 Causation: Entirely Non-Occupational “You need to see your own doctor; I cannot treat you under WC” “Friendly” first aid advice End on positive note –Less conflict with me –Less disruption for employer at workplace Document on Work Status –Non-Industrial –See Own MD

23 23 Treatment Plan: Plan Ahead Plan A On recheck… –If it works…typically finish Plan A –If it doesn’t work initiate Plan B Check for non-compliance with plan A Consider alternative diagnoses Consider Diagnostics – if they will impact care Discuss injection or alternative treatment Where ever possible use MTUS/ACOEM Guidelines for treatment plan

24 24 Treatment Plan: Patient-Centric Goals Actively listen to patient’s concerns Define most disruptive diagnoses “I get it and I’m competent “ “I can help with your injury and the problems its causing you – trust me”

25 25 Treatment Plan: Educate the Patient Anatomic posters Explain biomechanics and provocative test results Demonstrate knowledge and credibility Answer questions Dispel common disbeliefs Reinforce with printed handouts –Pathology –Basic exercises Reassure you will communicate with employer –Work recommendations –To follow restrictions as written –Injury is “real”

26 26 Treatment Plan: Talk to the Patient Explain multi-pronged treatment approach Expectation: –“Its your job to get better” –Outcome depends on patient effort –“No change = no gain” Outcome depends on severity of illness Outcome depends on delay in seeking care Reassure: –think positive –take action –be realistic Make yourself available to patient

27 27 Specific Treatment Plan for an Acute Injury Mild / Minimal Injury: –First Aid Only (OSHA – not labor code) –Non-Rx meds if sufficient –No Physical Therapy Or option of “instruction only” by therapist No modalities or procedures –Full Duty (if safe) –Depends on severity

28 28 Treatment Plan for an Moderate to Severe Acute Injury Start Physical Therapy ASAP Recheck 2 – 7 days Restrictions if medically necessary –Only if necessary –Specific to injury –Specific to job duties –Safety driven Prescription meds if medically necessary –Avoid narcotics or muscle relaxants where possible –Use OTC’s or topicals –Limits pain or sedation as an excuse for not working

29 29 Goals of Physical Therapy Recover full function Establish healthy habits Minimize risk of recurrence

30 30 Physical Therapy During early phase of treatment: Decrease pain & inflammation –TENS –Ultrasound –Phonophoresis/Iontophoresis –Myofascial release –Teach proper use of ice and heat Improve active range of motion (AROM) Reduce injury-related anxiety –Educate about pathology –Encourage movement Teach proper technique

31 31 Physical Therapy Late Phase of Treatment: Focus on increased flexibility, strength & endurance Teach self-care and personal responsibility Provide home exercise equipment (if needed) and instruction –Theraputty –Theraband –Home exercise ball –Foam Roll Limit TENS unit to specific cases for pain management Limit home traction unit to radicular cases Prescribe one month trial Re-evaluate for demonstrated use and benefit before refill

32 32 Cumulative Trauma Injury Defined by mechanism – not anatomy. Work Related Musculo Skeletal Disorders (WRMSD’s) Includes many different tendinopathies, myofascial pain syndrome and sometimes peripheral nerve entrapment (CTS) Identify specific diagnosis –Extensor tendinitis bilateral wrist (R>L) –Lateral epicondylitis R elbow – mild, chronic

33 33 4 Major Causes of Cumulative Trauma Injury Excessive force Awkward positions Static muscular tension Insufficient conditioning for job requirement

34 34 Cumulative Trauma Injury Challenges: Gradual onset Delay in seeking care Multifactorial cause Prone to “Injury Creep” Typical treatment guidelines geared to single, acute conditions under ideal conditions High risk of recurrence

35 35 Cumulative Trauma Injury Challenges Milder cases: an absence of objective symptoms Subjective symptoms such as pain influenced by mood, attitude and job/life satisfaction Response to treatment impacted by personality –The mis-educated and over-educated –Fear, anxiety and frustration

36 36 CTI: Treatment Plan Ergonomics - evaluate & adjust Self-care –Microbreaks hourly? –HEP: flexibility, strength, endurance and reduce pain Technique at work and home Splints? Work Habits (hours, pace, days, location)

37 37 Call Designated Employer Representative (DER) Diagnoses Why I consider it occupational Treatment plan Establish Communication Early intervention if there are discrepancies in history Insider information –back story –pre-claim conflict –workplace issues Re-examination of causation

38 38 Case Management at MD Recheck Before you walk in… –Always check previous note and if needed DFR –Always check PTx flow sheet for # of visits and exercise compliance –Stay on track with treatment plan –Check for new reports, diagnostics, consults, correspondence and status of certification Reinforce patient-physician relationship

39 39 Case Management at MD Recheck: “How is it going?” Get specific about injury –Patients wants to talk about pain –I want to talk about function –Get specific about functional capacity Check compliance –Home Exercises / Microbreaks –Meds –Splints

40 40 Case Management at MD Recheck: Reinforce: To change outcome we need a change in behavior Monitor for passivity, blaming non- compliance, sabotage, inconsistencies “The Lecture”: “Ultimately this is going to be your problem if… Restrictions become permanent Fact: Impairment / Disability ratings have changed Chronic pain is chronic and can ruin your life

41 41 Case Management (cont.) If responding to PTx/HEP consider 2 nd Rx if –Not ready for independent self care –Not ready for trial of full duty If not responding consider –Certified Hand Therapy (CHT) –Chiropractic –Acupuncture –Myofascial release Discuss treatment options with patient –Placebo effect –Sense of control –Not appropriate for all patients

42 42 Especially Challenging Cases Low Back Pain from prolonged sitting Depression/Anxiety from work (“Stress claim”) Depression from chronic pain, etc. Sick Building Syndrome / Chemical Sensitivity Noncompliance with treatment plan

43 43 Low Back Pain From Prolonged Sitting History Look for prior injury or alternate causation Check Ergonomics Check Work Volume Thorough examination “The talk”: –The human body and prolonged static posture –Microbreaks –Overall fitness / balance Poor Job Fit : this is your problem

44 44 Stress Claim / Psych. Claim “So how did you get hurt?” Basic history about circumstances –Relationships –Work volume Doesn’t meet >50% occupational causation: –See your own MD –Call employer and advise Strong case for legitimate claim: –Make referral for psych. referral –Continue care through personal health plan until claim accepted (we are not mental health specialists)

45 45 Depression Pre-existing? Identify early because this will impact coping and recovery. Refer to personal MD for treatment because not occupational causation.

46 46 Depression “due to injury” Chronic Pain Disability Financial Impact Impairment Reassure – “Normal” response to consequences of any illness or disability Depression is situational and will resolve with physical recovery or emotional adjustment

47 47 Depression “due to injury” Recommend patient see PMD WC not designed to manage depression Patient probably predisposed to depression/anxiety – check history Do not automatically accept as secondary to original injury If denies prior hx of depression consider psych. consult PTP cannot ignore patient psych complaints associated with injury While consult being certified (?) refer back to PMD.

48 48 Sick Building Syndrome Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome History, history, history Investigate thoroughly before accepting claim Review MSDS (if applicable) Discuss with DER or Safety Manager Review Industrial Hygiene report Toxic response must make sense Causation is EE’s duty to establish Toxicology consult if highly plausible/probable Chemical Sensitivity is ultimately a job fit problem

49 49 Problematic Patients Passive / Depressive / Anxious personality Borderline personality Type A personality Never feel ready for trial of full duty –Proceed with trial of full duty –Call employer If fails trial of full duty: –Mis-diagnosis? –Consult? –Diagnostics? –Work Capacity Evaluation (WCE)?

50 50 Other Problematic Patients I don’t ever want my case “closed” –“It might come back” –“What if I need to find another job” –“I won’t continue to treat you if…” you are not responding to care, or stable and don’t need regular medical care. –Reassure and describe Future Medical “I got laid off…” –Often a secondary gain issue –If on full duty see above –If on modified duty request WCE Figure out what is blocking MMI

51 51 Closing Cases as P&S Depends on outcome: Cured? Residual symptoms? Residual impairment? Residual disability? Permanent work restrictions?

52 52 Other Issues to be Resolved at P&S AMA Guides Whole Person Impairment Rating Causation: Is residual WPI Occupational? Apportionment: Is the WPI of mixed causation? Future Medical: What? How much? How specific about type? Indefinite? Permanent Work Restrictions?

53 53 Common WCE Results Most IW’s are “full duty capable” despite pain and behaviors Many identified as having inadequate “Chronic Pain Coping Skills” Very sore after testing strongly suggests non-compliance with HEP

54 54 Thank You Alliance Occupational Medicine 315 South Abbott Ave., Milpitas 2737 Walsh Ave., Santa Clara Please visit us at


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