Of all the work-related injuries that occur in the United States every year, more than 90 percent of them are orthopedic-related (meaning related to the bones or muscles).
When a workplace injury occurs, more often than not, the injured worker is sent to an occupational health center or the emergency room to receive treatment. While you should receive reasonable care at either of these facilities, odds are that your treating physician has limited experience treating injuries involving the musculoskeletal system.
Experts in the field, like Alejandro Badia, an orthopedic surgeon based in Miami, Florida, suggest that failure to refer injured workers to an orthopedic specialist leads to costly delays in the injured worker returning to work.
A 2013 study published in the Journal of BioMed Central Limited focused on how the economy can be impacted by prompt care for musculoskeletal injuries. The study discovered that the economy fares better when such injuries are promptly and properly cared for.
According to researchers, a “large portion of the societal economic benefits from receiving appropriate medical care relates to keeping people productively employed in the labor force.”
Furthermore, Dr. Badia feels that when patients receive prompt care, it will allow “valuable workers back to their jobs faster and more cost-effectively, reduce overall workers compensation liability, avoid early retirement, and limit chances that the employee’s injury will develop into a more complex, longer-term problem because of treatment delays.”
Dr. Badia also feels that we have outgrown our current standard of treatment for work injuries. Currently, injured workers are typically sent to see physicians who may only have limited experience treating orthopedic injuries.
Fortunately, in recent years, we have seen a growth in orthopedic-specific urgent care centers, which can offer workers experiencing these types of injuries more prompt and specialized care.
That said, adoption and acceptance of such facilities in the workers’ compensation system has been slow.
Further complicating the problem is access to occupational medicine itself. Occupational medicine remains one of the smallest medical specialties, which means there is a huge shortage of physicians who can treat occupational injuries. This leaves primary care physicians the task of evaluating and treating work injuries.
According to the National Safety Council, in 2019, work injuries cost the economy $171 billion. This total included:
- Administrative costs
- Health care expenses
- Uninsured costs (time lost)
- Wages and productivity losses
Moreover, data from the CDC revealed that around 2.5 million employees needed to visit an ER for injuries in 2018. Dr. Badia feels that many of these injured workers could have been better served by orthopedic specialists—both in terms of care and cost.
Even with the rise in orthopedic care centers, most injured workers visit emergency rooms first. The cost of going to an emergency room is often 10 times higher than other health clinics like orthopedic care centers.
Arizona workers’ compensation benefits for occupational orthopedic injuries
Regardless of how a workplace injury occurs, it’s important to remember that Arizona is a “no fault” state for workers’ compensation, meaning that workers who are injured at work will receive compensation for their injury(ies) regardless of who or what was responsible.
Workers who are injured on the job in Arizona can access 3 main categories of benefits for a work-related injury.
Employees who are entitled to workers’ comp benefits can expect to receive compensation for the following medical expenses:
- Diagnostics and medical exams
- Doctor visits
- Travel expenses to and from medical appointments
- Hospital and emergency room visits
- Physical therapy (PT)
Wage loss and disability
For workers who are injured on the job, they may also be able to recoup some of their income depending on the severity of their injury(ies). If the worker is left with a permanent and total disability, the maximum benefits they can receive from the state is 2/3 of their average weekly wage.
There are 4 categories of income benefits:
- Temporary total disability (TTD). A worker categorized with a TTD means they have suffered an injury that is severe enough for their physician to fully write them out of work for an extended period.
- Temporary partial disability (TPD). Workers categorized as TPD will not be able to perform all of their normal work duties and their physician will specify what their limitations are.
- Permanent partial disability (PPD). Workers with a PPD have sustained an injury that is permanent, but they are still able to perform some of their work duties.
- Permanent total disability (PTD). Workers categorized as PTD are left with permanent disabilities that keep them from working entirely.
If a worker dies as the result of a workplace accident, their surviving dependents are eligible to receive compensation on their behalf. Dependents refers to spouse, children/stepchildren, parents, siblings and/or other dependents.
In most cases, death benefits are 2/3 of the worker’s average weekly wage. Additionally, workers’ comp insurance will pay up to $5,000 toward funeral and burial. The length of time beneficiaries will receive compensation depends on their relationship to the deceased.
Work-related musculoskeletal trauma and safety protocols
Common work-related musculoskeletal traumas include injuries to the back, elbows, hands, knees, and shoulders. The most common types of injuries include:
- Shoulder rotator cuff tears
- Sprains and strains
In order to keep employees as safe as possible while they’re at work, there are a number of practices employers and companies can implement to reduce the risk of work injury:
- Adhering to instructional safety manuals
- Encouraging injured workers to seek immediate medical care if they’re injured
- Encouraging breaks while working
- Ensuring that work spaces are clean
- Hosting company-wide safety training
- Learning/applying correct lifting techniques for heavy objects
- Promptly cleaning spills
- Providing ergonomic equipment to promote proper posture while working at desks
In order to ensure that you get all the compensation you’re entitled to, speak with an experienced Arizona workers’ compensation attorney at the Law Offices of Robert E. Wisniewski.