The following somewhat controversial article was submitted as a “Guest Post” by a Physiotherapist who suffered a work injury and, more importantly, who has seen the workcover system from both sides….
View of workcover from both sides – Injured Physiotherapist
By Helen Harpas
I am a physio who injured my back and was led a merry dance through workcover, I agree in part with Dr Osti and his comments.
There are a lot of people involved in the W/C [workcover] process before the patient gets to see a specialist.
By the time I had finished with many different case managers, psychologists, Rehab ‘providers’ etc, etc, I was made to feel like shit and together with absolutely NO support from work, depression made my back feel even worse.
Instead of trying to stay active I had taken to bed, instead of the ‘system’ trying to look at my problems in an objective and practical way, I was told I had to do a course in pilates etc – even though I could not kneel or put weight on a broken wrist….
A lot of the stresses come about because of the way the W/C system functions (or doesn’t). Everyone wants a slice of the pie. I eventually managed to get control of my rehab process – at least I had the appropriate background in order to understand what was appropriate and was able to save the system several thousands of $$$$.
Dr Osti became my last step in my journey to being able to function again. He was direct, told it as it was without the fluffy B’s#@t that I got from everyone else.
Without his help, I wouldn’t be able to function today. It is the multitude of people who see W/C as a cash cow who should be blamed for the problem with back injuries, not specialists like Osti who are continually inundated with people who should never have got to the stage of being sent to him in the first place!
Commentary by WorkCover Admin(s)
Dr Osti is an Orthopaedic Surgeon with a special interest in spinal disorders. His Practice deals with the clinical assessment and surgical management of patients with spinal conditions.
In addition Dr Osti carries out medico-legal assessments for musculo-skeletal disabilities related to the spine.
Consultative services include advice on diagnosis, investigations, management, employment and return to work programs, assessment of temporary and permanent impairment and general prognosis.
Worker’s compensation for back pain does more harm than good and should be scrapped, a prominent back surgeon says.
Award-winning orthopedic and spinal surgeon, Dr Orso Osti, wants the law changed so workers can no longer receive compensation for low back pain.
“I am beginning to feel, after so many years practising in this difficult field, that we may be all better off,” he said.
“The workers most of all, but also the community at large.”
At a public forum on back pain in the workplace, Dr Osti described a “tragic situation” in which patients lose money, self-esteem and chances of further employment in the process of pursuing compensation claims.
“The so-called victims become even more victims in the process,” he said
“Everyone else – rehabilitation providers, lawyers, doctors and insurers – prosper on these people’s long-term misery.”
In South Australia, SafeWork SA says back injuries represent nearly one quarter of all workers’ compensation claims made annually.
“In the South Australian workers’ compensation environment low back injury is one of the most prevalent injury conditions,” says the WorkCoverSA 2009-10 annual report.
Dr Osti discussed the conflict when doctors cannot find an injury, and the onus moves to patients to prove there is a problem.
“That leads to them not being able to cope with the problem as well as they could,” Dr Osti said.
Dr Mark Hancock, from the Back Pain Research Centre at the University of Sydney, says “compensation has been shown to be associated with slower recovery from pain”.
But he added: “I believe it is too simple to imply that compensation has only bad outcomes”.
International guidelines around back pain recommended “cheap, safe treatments” including simple analgesics (paracetamol) and advised to stay active and avoid bed rest, he said.
Former WorkCover director Dr Kevin Purse, now with the Hawke Research Institute at UniSA, said that scrapping compensation for back pain was an “appalling prescription”.
He suggested reforming the system so that compensation arrangements helped people get back to work. “They shouldn’t be penalised for being injured,” he said.