Occupational Therapy and Workers’ Compensation

Posted on Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021 at 12:06 pm    

Most workers, after their surgeries and doctor visits, need to treat with different types of therapists. Some of the types of therapists you may need to treat with are physical therapists, rehabilitation therapists, and occupational therapists. The term “occupational therapy” can be a little confusing. Occupational therapy doesn’t mean that the therapists focus on helping you perform your job tasks. Occupation is used more broadly – in the sense of what tasks “occupy” your time. Occupational therapists help people, even children, perform their daily activities. 

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, occupational therapy “practitioners enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health, and prevent—or live better with—injury, illness, or disability.” Occupational therapists help children participate in school activities. Occupational therapists help older adults adjust to physical changes and cognitive changes.

What services do occupational therapists provide

The broad objectives of occupational therapy are:

  • Evaluating the person/worker to determine your goals and what tasks you need to carry out.
  • Preparing a customized personal plan to help you perform your daily tasks and obtain your goals.
  • Evaluate the progress of the plan to determine whether any changes should be made to help you meet your goals.

“Occupational therapy practitioners have a holistic perspective, in which the focus is on adapting the environment and/or task to fit the person, and the person is an integral part of the therapy team. It is an evidence-based practice deeply rooted in science.”

Medical News today offers more insight into the role of occupational therapists. Occupational therapy helps people with work, school, hobbies, social interactions, and household responsibilities. Often, your family physician or a treating specialist will recommend that you work with an occupational therapist. In North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation cases, the doctor you pick from the employer’s list of physicians may recommend that you see an occupational therapist.

Occupational therapists help you adapt to the environment around you. Specific examples of occupational therapy include:

  • Assisting people, who suffered injuries at work, through their physical changes (including improvements due to healing) so the employee can work.
  • “Helping people experiencing changes in how they think or remember things to carry on working”

Nearly half of the occupational therapists in America work in hospitals or with specialists. Others work with various health services. Some work in nursing homes and schools. Occupational therapists need to obtain a license to practice. Many occupational therapists have a master’s degree in occupational therapy.

What you should expect when you meet with your occupational therapist

The occupational therapist (OT) will start by reviewing your medical history. They’ll ask you questions about your daily living tasks and your daily work tasks. They may ask you to try to perform some of these tasks to see what you can and can’t do. Some OTs may even go to your workplace “to see whether they can spot any ways to improve them.”.

Once the goals have been set, the OT will work to determine what practical solutions, other than physical therapy, can help. Simple suggestions may include adding handrails or labeling items if the person has any loss of cognitive function. The OT may recommend assistive devices such as a wheelchair or computer aids. The OT will then work with you to help you learn how to use those assistive devices.

After regular intervals, such as every two weeks or every month, the OT will monitor your improvement. Part of the monitoring will include your responses to the OT’s questions. 

How does occupational therapy differ from physical therapy?

Many people confuse occupational therapy and physical therapy. While both health services aim to improve a worker’s health so he/she can return to work, there are differences.

Occupational therapists focus on your ability to do the tasks you need to do in your everyday life. Physical therapists mostly focus on improving your movement.  Physical therapists regularly:

  • Prescribe certain exercises depending on the type of injuries you have and the severity of the injuries
  • Provide “hands-on care”
  • Educate workers and others about the affected areas

Often, part of physical therapy is to build up your muscles around the injured area so the muscles can do some of the work the injured area normally does.

Physical therapists (PTs) also create their own personalized plans for injured workers. The plans generally complement the OT’s plan. PT plans include:

  • Improving your mobility
  • Managing pain and any chronic condition
  • Helping you recover from a surgery or an injury
  • Helping strengthen and repair your body with the aim of avoiding additional injuries

Occupational therapists generally focus on practical solutions such as assistive equipment or methods for helping the injured worker perform daily tasks. Physical therapists focus on exercise routines to help your body heal from and adjust to your injuries.

How does occupational therapy differ from vocational therapy?

According to Vocational Training HQ, vocational rehabilitation helps people with a disability (such as a temporary disability due to a workplace injury) return to work. Vocational therapists may work with you directly to provide medical care. They often coordinate your needs with occupational therapists, physical therapists, and other counselors to help you develop the skills and adjustment strategies so you can return to work. They may also provide career counseling advice such as explaining your employment options if your injuries don’t fully heal.

Unfortunately, as explained elsewhere, unlike physical and occupational therapy, which is ordered by your doctor,  vocational rehabilitation, which is instituted directly by the insurance company, in most circumstances, is somewhat of a ruse. The real goal of the vocational counselor—who is employed by the workers compensation insurance company—is to reduce or completely eliminate the insurance company’s obligation to pay you your weekly compensation. This is typically done in one or both of two ways: 1. Find you a job you don’t like that pays little, reducing the insurance company’s weekly payment amount or 2. Trip you up and be able to say you are out of compliance with vocational rehabilitation, which in Virginia, will result in an immediate stoppage of your benefits. In North Carolina, you will be headed to Hearing to determine if you are out of compliance. 

At Joe Miller Law, we’ve helped thousands of injured and ill workers obtain just recoveries for their medical expenses and their legal share of lost wages. We achieve these goals by working with your physicians, therapists, and other health care providers. When necessary, we work with independent medical providers to help ensure the employer doctors are helping you as much as you need. We’ve helped these workers through all types of injuries and all types of recovery plans. 

We fight to ensure the employer’s doctors don’t force you back to work before you’re ready. In some cases, your health providers will report that you can return to work – with work restrictions. To discuss all aspects of your workers’ compensation claim including occupational therapy, call lawyer Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295. or complete my online contact form to schedule an appointment. 

Employees in North Carolina and Virginia can also use our New Electronic Case Review. The link is another way to communicate with our law firm that we’re offering – to allow workers to contact us remotely via computer at any time.