What You Need To Know About Amputations & Workers’ Compensation

Amputations can be a life-changing event for a Worker.  Workers may lose their ability to perform their job as well as perform activities of daily living.

The Workers’ Compensation Community is concerned about amputation cases as they involve extensive medical costs and missed time from work.

This article will discuss amputations, special laws concerning amputations, and interesting data derived from a recent study.

What Is an Amputation?

The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board defined amputation.  In Cruz vs. Mercedes Benz, 72 C.C.C. 1281 (Panel Decision), the WCAB indicated “ Defining amputation as the severance or removal of a limb, part of a limb, or other body appendage comports with the ordinary meaning, and includes the range of potentially compensable scenarios, including both traumatic loss of a body part in an industrial injury and surgical removal during treatment. This definition conforms to our understanding of the common meaning of the term “amputation,” which encompasses external projecting body parts, not internal parts, even if they include bone. It is also consistent with the definitions in the International Dictionary of Medicine and Biology, Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary, and Stedman’s Medical Dictionary. To the extent that some definitions refer to organs, appear to encompass all body parts, or include an equivocal “etc.,” we reject them or interpret them in a manner consistent with our understanding of the term “amputation.”

Thus, surgery on a lumbar disc was found not to constitute an amputation.

Why Is an Amputation Important in California Workers’ Compensation?

An amputation in a workers’ compensation case triggers entitlement to additional periods of total temporary disability. 240 weeks is allowed in the case of amputations. Labor Code Section 4656.  In these cases, there is no requirement that the temporary disability period be connected to the amputation. Jon Van Ness, Applicant v. Barbara Herzstein, 2007 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 239 (Panel Decision)

How Do Amputations Occur on an Industrial Basis?

Occupationally related amputations can occur for many reasons.  The accident itself can be the source of the amputation, i.e. a skill saw cutting off a finger.  They can result of a crush injury which necessitates an amputation. They can be the result of post-surgical infection.  They can be the result of an industrially related disease process such as diabetes.

Interesting Amputation Facts Are:  

Males vs. Females

Men sustain most of the work-related amputations.  (84.8%) Gomez NG, Gaspar FW, Thiese MS, Merryweather AS. Trends in incidence and correlation between medical costs and lost workdays for work-related amputations in the State of California from 2007 to 2018. Health Sci Rep. 2021 Jul 1;4(3):e319. doi: 10.1002/hsr2.319. PMID: 34250271; PMCID: PMC8247939.

Full-Time vs. Part-Time Employees

Full-Time Employees were more likely to sustain amputation versus Part-Time Workers. (71.7%.) Supra.

Most Amputated Parts

Most claims consisted of partial-hand amputations (82.0%).  Most of those were partial-hand amputations, 66.7% were fingers without the loss of the thumb. Following partial-hand amputations, partial-foot amputations were the next most common claim  at 5.9%.  Supra.

Type of Business

Manufacturing is the industry with the highest number of claims (24.1%.) Supra.

What Should an Injured Worker Take from This Study?

The study noted that “[a]mputations represent high medical costs and number of lost workdays.” Gomez NG, Gaspar FW, Thiese MS, Merryweather AS. Trends in incidence and correlation between medical costs and lost workdays for work-related amputations in the State of California from 2007 to 2018. Health Sci Rep. 2021 Jul 1;4(3):e319. doi: 10.1002/hsr2.319. PMID: 34250271; PMCID: PMC8247939.

Due to the increased medical expense and missed time from work, Insurance Companies will make efforts to control the costs.  They may do so by employing a Defense Counsel as well as a Nurse Case Manager.

What If I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for over 27 years. Contact us today for more information.

CALIFORNIA BACK INJURIES AND TREATMENT GUIDELINES: EVIDENCE BASED MEDICINE (EBM) AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION:  WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

California Workers’ Compensation has embraced Evidence Based Medicine (EBM) to dictate industrial medical care authorization.

Thus, when a EBM study is published, the Workers’ Compensation Community looks to its conclusions. The community looks to see the results are aligned with the Labor Code’s mandate to provide treatment to cure or relieve from the effects of an industrial injury.

Back Injury treatment was assessed in a recent EBM study.  They looked to see if  guidelines treatment achieved favorable results.  The results of such a study can shape both insurance company and medical office policy.

This article will discuss the study which looked at California back injury treatment in light of EBM-related guidelines.

What Is Evidence Based Medicine?

Evidence Based Medicine “…integrates medical research with clinical expertise and patient values to support decision making based on the best available evidence.” Gaspar FW, Thiese MS, Wizner K, Hegmann K. Guideline adherence and lost workdays for acute low back pain in the California workers’ compensation system. PLoS One. 2021 Jun 17;16(6):e0253268. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0253268. PMID: 34138937; PMCID: PMC8211224.

In other words, an Injured Worker’s treatment is geared more towards past research and study results. The Injured Worker’s treating physician’s clinical impressions are viewed as secondary. Thus, EBM-like treatment is provided in an algorithmic or formulaic fashion.

What Was the Study’s Purpose?

“The aim of this study was to determine the influence of adherence to guideline recommendations on lost workdays for workers with acute LBP(low back pain) claims in California’s WC system.” Gaspar FW, Thiese MS, Wizner K, Hegmann K. Guideline adherence and lost workdays for acute low back pain in the California workers’ compensation system. PLoS One. 2021 Jun 17;16(6):e0253268. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0253268. PMID: 34138937; PMCID: PMC8211224.

In other words, treatment currently can be in a number of modality forms.  Some are within guidelines, some treatment which is not recommended by guidelines and some others.  During an accepted claim, Injured Workers’ treatment are usually authorized.  Sometimes, authorized treatment can be ones that are outside of the guidelines.

What Is Guideline Treatment?   

Guideline treatment is based upon the “American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM)’s Low Back Disorders Practice Guideline was used as the source of guideline recommendations [16]. ACOEM’s treatment guidelines have been adopted in California’s Medical Treatment Utilization Schedule (MTUS), which determines what is reasonable and necessary medical care.” Gaspar FW, Thiese MS, Wizner K, Hegmann K. Guideline adherence and lost workdays for acute low back pain in the California workers’ compensation system. PLoS One. 2021 Jun 17;16(6):e0253268. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0253268. PMID: 34138937; PMCID: PMC8211224.

What Is the Criticism of the Study? 

The study did not look at every back condition.  The study limited itself to very specific back conditions.  Thus, the results are very limited.  The danger of such a study it will be interpreted to apply to back conditions that were not part of the study.

As noted in the study, “to focus on the treatment of uncomplicated LBP claims, claims were removed if they had an inpatient admission during the claim or a “red flag” diagnosis that may indicate treatment outside of guideline recommendations, such as fracture, cancer, infection, aortic aneurysm, and paralysis (S1 Table). Claims were excluded with stenosis diagnoses if they also had an accompanying surgical procedure (i.e., decompression, fusion, or adhesiolysis). Claims were also excluded if there had been a prior LBP claim to remove complicated clinical presentations due to LBP recurrences.” Gaspar FW, Thiese MS, Wizner K, Hegmann K. Guideline adherence and lost workdays for acute low back pain in the California workers’ compensation system. PLoS One. 2021 Jun 17;16(6):e0253268. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0253268. PMID: 34138937; PMCID: PMC8211224. [emphasis added]

Thus, the study should not be considered one that should be viewed in an expansive nature.   It was limited as many back problems were not addressed.  It only address uncomplicated back pain complaints.

What Did the Study Look at?

The workers were placed into categories concerning whether or not they received guideline treatment.   Likewise, there were categories in which they received no guideline treatment or no treatment at all. Gaspar FW, Thiese MS, Wizner K, Hegmann K. Guideline adherence and lost workdays for acute low back pain in the California workers’ compensation system. PLoS One. 2021 Jun 17;16(6):e0253268. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0253268. PMID: 34138937; PMCID: PMC8211224.

What Were the Study’s Results?

The results of the study were that “[w]hen workers received guideline-recommended interventions, they typically returned to work in fewer days. The majority of workers received at least one non-recommended intervention, demonstrating the need for adherence to guideline recommendations. Fewer lost workdays and improved quality care are outcomes that strongly benefit injured workers.”

The other result of interest was that “workers who received either no intervention or other medical interventions experienced more favorable outcomes than those who received non-recommended interventions”  This result suggests that alternative treatment or no treatment is better than non-recommended interventions.

What If I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for 27 years. Contact us today for more information.

HEALTH CARE WORKERS, SOCIAL SERVICES WORKERS, AND CALIFORNIA WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Work injuries are often studied based upon sector and occupation. Studies can impact how workers are trained and treated.  Health Care Workers and Social Assistance Workers were recently studied in the article “Occupational Injuries in California Health Care and Social Assistance Industry”  2009 to 2018.”  Kerri Wizner, Fraser W. Gaspar, Adriane Biggio, Steve Wiesner 06 June 2021 https: //doi.org/10.1002/hsr2.306

The study addressed a large variety of health care occupations including nurse, aides, assistances, service staff, administrative staff, and technicians. The study looked at the different healthcare facilities including hospitals, residential care sites, and social services providers.

The article will discuss the study’s data, conclusions and impact on Health Care Workers.

What Was the Study’s Purpose?

The study looked at injury prevention workforce health, and injury-related cost savings. Supra.

Thus, a typical risk management agenda was addressed.  In short, questions such as “what facilities have problems with work injuries?”, “what occupations have problems with work injuries?”, and “what type of work activities cause work injuries?” are addressed.

What Are the Injury Rates of Import in the Health Care and Services Fields?

Sex: Women sustain the majority of work injuries.   The data showed that “the majority of injuries were sustained by women (78.1%), with three-quarters of cases affecting individuals aged 32 to 53 years.”  Supra.  Note: This may relate to two factors.  A greater amount of women working in the field.  Also, women may have greater physical challenges of dealing with large or immobile patients.  As noted in the study, lifting was found to be a significant source of injury.

Facilities:  The injury rates differed in each industry subgroups.   Hospitals had the highest number of claims with Ambulatory Care, second, Nursing Care, third. The Social Assistance Group had the least claims.  Supra. Note: Hospitals are often less specialized that nursing care facilities.  Thus, there are more tasks and more activities performed in a non-ergonomic fashion in a hospital.  Likewise, there may be far more activity. Thus, the data is logical.

Occupation: Health care and social assistance settings each have a different proportion of job types, given the variety of health services offered. … Across all settings within California, nurses had the highest proportion of injuries (22.1%), followed by aides/assistants (20.4%), services staff (13.2%), administrative staff (11.0%), and technicians (10.3%). The highest proportion of injury occurred in nursing jobs in hospitals (32.2% vs 3.2%-20.6%), aides/assistants in nursing/residential care sites (40.2% vs 12.1%-16.7%), and social services in social assistance settings (40.6% vs 3.2%-8.0%).”  Supra. Note: This finding is not surprising as the largest percentage of injuries are reported within the most physically challenged positions.

Types of Injuries: There was an analysis of the types of Injuries reported. The study reported “[s]trains and tears (defined by the State of California as an injury of the muscle or the musculotendinous unit13), were the most common injury, representing 34.4% of all claims, followed by contusions (11.0%), sprains (injury to ligaments) (10.0%), other specific injuries (9.6%), and puncture wounds (7.7%). These injury types were similar across the industry sub-groups apart from ambulatory care, which had a higher proportion of puncture wounds than other settings (14.1% vs 3.4%-5.9%, respectively).”  Note: Most of the injuries were of a musculoskeletal nature.  The other concern in the healthcare setting is puncture wounds which can be caused by sharps and needles.

Activities Causing Injury: There was an analysis concerning what activities caused the work injuries.  The study found “[a]cross all settings, lifting injuries (10.8%) and strains NOC (9.1%) were the most common causes of injury, followed by miscellaneous NOC causes (6.6%), repetitive motion (6.0%), and injury due to being struck accidentally or on purpose by a fellow worker, patient, or other person (5.9%).”

Parts of the Body Injured:  There are an analysis concerning which body parts were most frequently injury.  Per the study, ”[t]he low back was the most frequently injured body part, representing 13.6% of all claims; followed by multiple body parts (12.8%), finger(s) (9.1%), shoulder(s) (6.8%), and knee(s) (6.1%). Nursing/residential care settings reported the highest proportion of both lifting injuries (15.8% vs 8.9%-9.9%) and low back injuries (16.9% vs 10.0%-13.1%) as compared to the other settings.” [emphasis added] Note: Most body parts injured are within the musculoskeletal systems.

Ambulatory care:

The rates for ambulatory care employee injuries were found to be increasing. Supra.  Note: Ambulatory care relates to outpatient centers.   Many hospital patients are moved to rehabilitation centers to begin the rehabilitation process.  These settings can require patients to begin performing physical activities in a weakened state.  Thus, there are significant injury risks for assisting workers.

What May Result from This Study?

The main findings were the high rates of injury in both the hospital setting as well as for ambulatory care employees.    Extra safety and training measures may likely be implemented to lower the injury rates with the setting and within the employee class.

What If I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for 27 years. Contact us today for more information.

UPPER EXTREMITY SURGERY, POST-OPERATIVE VISITS AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Workers’ Compensation Studies will often provide Injured Workers insight as to Insurance Companies’ and Medical Providers’ tactics.   Injured Workers often feel like there is an agenda working against them.  A recent study about post-operative visits for Upper Extremity Surgery raises concerns.

This article will discuss Upper Extremity Surgery, the Study’s results and the Study’s implications for Injured Workers.

What Are Upper Extremity Surgeries?

In the workers’ compensation system, upper extremities can fit into two categories.

First, there are traumatic injuries which require surgeries.  A skill saw accident involving amputation is one which may require extensive and specific procedures.

Second, there are surgeries that are due to Occupational Illness.  These surgeries are most likely related to repetitive trauma.

One common occupational illness surgery is carpal tunnel.

What Are Typical Workers’ Compensation Upper Extremity Surgeries?

Typical workers’ compensation surgeries, which were also the subject to the Study, are Carpal Tunnel Release, Trigger Finger Release, Cubital Tunnel Release, and De Quervains.

With respect to these surgeries, sometimes two or more of these procedures can be done at the same time.

What Did the Study Find?

The study found that workers’ compensation patients have more post-operative visits after surgery than non-industrial surgeries.  Henry TW, Townsend CB, Beredjiklian PK. Workers’ Compensation Status Confers a Greater Number of Postoperative Visits After Common Upper Extremity Surgeries. Cureus. 2021;13(4):e14629. Published 2021 Apr 22. doi:10.7759/cureus.14629

The study viewed these additional visits as being an additional cost which could be targeted for saving.   Telehealth appointments were suggested as a means of lowering costs. Also, there is the concern overburdening the providers with additional appointments.

Comment: Workers’ compensation claims have reporting obligations. Therefore, there is a greater need for appointments.   Likewise, there are return to work issues which may also cause the need for additional post-operative appointments.

Further, non-industrial patients, if they are satisfied with their result, may be inclined to cancel or not follow through with post-operative appointments.   Thus, there are a number of drivers in the workers’ compensation system which cause more appointments than non-industrial patients.  The notion of telehealth evaluations, however, may be of value.   In matters where there is excellent post-surgery healing, an actual appointment with the provider may not be so important. A telehealth evaluation may suffice.

Besides Costs, What Are Other Concerns in the Workers’ Compensation System Claims involving Upper Extremities?

Risk Management concerns on post-operative cases include the Injured Worker’s compliance with treatment, their functional outcome, their symptom relief, their return to work and their satisfaction. Henry TW, Townsend CB, Beredjiklian PK. Workers’ Compensation Status Confers a Greater Number of Postoperative Visits After Common Upper Extremity Surgeries. Cureus. 2021;13(4):e14629. Published 2021 Apr 22. doi:10.7759/cureus.14629

What If I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for 27 years. Contact us today for more information.

WORK-RELATED ROTATOR CUFF SHOULDER INJURIES, SURGERY, AND RETURN TO WORK: SHOULDERS AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Shoulders are at risk of industrial injury and are subject to many workers’ compensation claims.  The shoulder is a complex body part. As a result, there are variety of medical treatments that can be applied.  One type of shoulder injury is to the rotator cuff.  Rotator cuff tears account for over 4.5 million annual physician visits due to rotator cuff tears in the United States .Rotator cuff tears are one of the most common forms of upper extremity injury in the workers’ compensation population. Gutman M J, Patel M S, Katakam A, et al. (March 31, 2021) Understanding Outcomes and the Ability to Return to Work After Rotator Cuff Repair in the Workers’ Compensation Population. Cureus 13(3): e14213. doi:10.7759/cureus.14213.  One form a treatment for rotator cuff injuries is surgery.

This article will discuss shoulders, rotator cuff surgeries, and a recent study concerning rotator cuff surgeries.

What Types of Surgeries Can Be Performed on Shoulders?

 There are a variety of shoulder surgeries that are available.   Shoulder surgeries include rotator cuff tear, total shoulder arthropathy and reverse shoulder arthropathy.  Surgery choice is based upon the nature of the injury and what needs to be repaired.

What is the Rotator Cuff?

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that come together as tendons to form a covering around the head of the humerus in the shoulder. The rotator cuff attaches the humerus to the shoulder blade and helps to lift and rotate your arm. AAOC

What Are Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Injuries?

The symptoms for rotator cuff tears can include pain at rest and at night, pain when lifting and lowering your arm, pain with specific movements, weakness when lifting or rotating your arm and cracking when moving your shoulder. AAOC

What Is Rotator Cuff Surgery?

A rotator cuff surgery will attempt to repair the torn tendons.   This can include re-attaching them to the bone. AAOC

Does Occupation Matter with Respect to Rotator Cuff Surgeries?

Per the study, “the majority of patients with workers’ compensation claims have excellent outcomes from rotator cuff repair. Those patients that returned to work were more likely to work as non-laborers, had better functional scores and greater satisfaction with their treatment. Patients with three tendon tear repairs demonstrated worse functional outcomes than small full-thickness tendon repairs.” Gutman M J, Patel M S, Katakam A, et al. (March 31, 2021) Understanding Outcomes and the Ability to Return to Work After Rotator Cuff Repair in the Workers’ Compensation Population. Cureus 13(3): e14213. doi:10.7759/cureus.14213.

In sum, occupations such as clerical staff will have better results and happiness from the surgery versus physical laborers.  Generally, laborers are individuals that work in the construction field, do warehouse work, and do heavy work.

What Were the Study Results with Respect to Dominant versus Non-Dominant Hand?

Yes. The study “found that patients who did not RTW [return to work] had a higher frequency of rotator cuff tear in the dominant arm. This was especially evident when looking at patients who held labor-intensive occupations that required use of their upper extremities. In general, laborers were less likely to return to work than non-laborers (p = 0.032), but when they had sustained a dominant arm injury, the ability to RTW [return to work) was decreased even further in 90% of laborers with non-dominant cuff tears able to return to work compared to only 54% of laborers with dominant arm cuff tears.” Gutman M J, Patel M S, Katakam A, et al. (March 31, 2021) Understanding Outcomes and the Ability to Return to Work After Rotator Cuff Repair in the Workers’ Compensation Population. Cureus 13(3): e14213. doi:10.7759/cureus.14213.

Is Rotator Cuff Surgery Generally Successful with Respect to Injured Workers’ Return to Work?

The study found “the majority of patients achieved excellent functional outcomes and the ability to return to work. Gutman M J, Patel M S, Katakam A, et al. (March 31, 2021) Understanding Outcomes and the Ability to Return to Work After Rotator Cuff Repair in the Workers’ Compensation Population. Cureus 13(3): e14213. doi:10.7759/cureus.14213.

Is Pain a Factor?

Yes, per the study, “shoulder function and shoulder pain scores were highly predictive of ability to RTW [return to work.] Patients who returned to work had significantly higher shoulder satisfaction and shoulder function.” Gutman M J, Patel M S, Katakam A, et al. (March 31, 2021) Understanding Outcomes and the Ability to Return to Work After Rotator Cuff Repair in the Workers’ Compensation Population. Cureus 13(3): e14213. doi:10.7759/cureus.14213.

Do the Number of Tears Operated on Matter?

Yes. Per the study, “three tendon tears have been shown to have the highest rate of re-tear rate and worse functional outcomes. In the current study, while size of tear (p = 0.12) was not predictive of ability to RTW [return to work], patients with three torn tendons experienced the lowest rates of returning to work and the worst functional outcomes.” Gutman M J, Patel M S, Katakam A, et al. (March 31, 2021) Understanding Outcomes and the Ability to Return to Work After Rotator Cuff Repair in the Workers’ Compensation Population. Cureus 13(3): e14213. doi:10.7759/cureus.14213.

What Does This Study Mean for Injured Workers?

Insurance Companies may use this study to make assessments on an injured Workers’ ability to return to work.  Specifically, Injured Workers who are laborers who injured had their dominant shoulder operated on will likely have return to work difficulties.

Insurance Companies may be encouraged to authorize additional post-surgical therapy if there are signs of functional improvement.  Functional improvement plays an important factor on   return to work issues.

Insurance Companies will be concerned in rotator cuff shoulder surgeries involving three tears.  Carriers may approach these cases with the view that they may be problematic for both return to work issues and for future medical care needs.

What If I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for 27 years. Contact us today for more information.

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