Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Communication Effort

Coventry Workers’ Compensation Services published a white paper this month that makes a completely obvious recommendation that nearly no one will follow: increase communication with the injured worker.

The conclusion of the paper, that simply increasing the level of communication between injured workers and claims managers and doctors can help claimants recover more quickly and fully, is, frankly, a no brainer. All one need do is go talk to an injured worker or three who have been through the process to make that determination.

“Trust is intimately related to belief. If the employee does not trust the employer, it means that the employee disbelieves the information that comes from the human resources department, the (adjuster) and quite possibly the doctors,” the white paper reads. “This lack of belief is based on a gut feeling that the source of the information is either lying or incompetent.”

Where have we read that before? Perhaps this blog!

The Coventry paper, though stating the obvious, is at least a reminder to the people in this industry that their most basic job is to communicate: with the injured worker, and with each other. Unfortunately nearly no one is actually trained to communicate.

Talk to someone who has been through the workers' compensation claims process and you will find out that while you, as a professional, THINK you are communicating, the reality is that you probably aren't - at least not at the level to stave off mistrust.

And it's mistrust that drives poor outcomes and increased expense in the system.

At each stage of the process, more often than not, there is a failure to communicate.
What we got here is... failure to communicate.

But it's not for wanting; it's because we're not understanding what the communication needs are.

Coventry's paper does make some general suggestions - frankly all the same propositions that are repeated over and over and over again like a meditation mantra. These go a long way, but are not what is really needed.

What injured workers REALLY need to know is, what is the next step, what the choices are if any, WHO will be contacting them and why, etc. In other words, managing expectations is probably the primary job in the work injury communication process.

We can all feel empathy, and we can all try to smooth over the bumps in the process, but when it comes down to the fundamentals, what really matters is understanding the fears, which are generated by the unknown, and then eliminating as much as possible those unknowns.

Sure, the adjuster is trained to contact the injured worker immediately as part of the three point contact process when a claim is received. Sure, the employer is encouraged to "touch" the injured worker to let him or her know that they matter. And the physicians try, with the limited time for which they are paid, to have a positive talk with the patient.

All of that misses the opportunity to provide the injured worker with the information needed to establish trust.

Because what happens after the claims adjuster "talks to" the injured worker a stack of papers arrives in the mail with dire warnings about time limits that may affect receipt of benefits (though you don't need a lawyer on your claim!).

And then someone shows up at the door step with a brief case full of papers to take the injured workers' statement with documentation that may call into question credibility.

Then the doctor may refer the injured worker to another doctor that the insurance company doesn't want to pay - which is not communicated to the injured worker until AFTER the appointment...

We could go on and on about the what, when, who, how, and why of communication.

But it won't matter. Because communication requires effort - a lot of effort - to be effective. And the effort to engage in this style of communication, i.e. listening, isn't rewarded.

There's a post going around Facebook recently that reads, "The biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply."

That's what workers' compensation does - we listen, but we do so to reply rather than understand.

That's what drives claim costs and interferes with positive outcomes.

1 comment:

  1. The problem with communication is what is communicated and just after 1 lie from either party all trust goes out the door and so begins the litigation.