Buying into Better Health

By Rod Myer | Vol: 38 Issue: 4 | Dec 2015
  • Life Health and Retirement Income
Healthcare

Work-related injuries and illnesses take a heavy toll on the Australian economy. For example, in 2008–09 – the latest year for which figures are available – work-related injuries and illness cost the country AU$60.6 billion, or 4.8 per cent of GDP, according to Safe Work Australia.

Australia has made significant advances in reducing this burden. Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show the number of male workers receiving an injury in the year to June 2014 fell to 4.9 per cent from 5.5 per cent in 2009–10. For women, the figure was 3.6 per cent compared to 5.1 per cent in the earlier period. However, this still equates to over half a million people who experienced a workplace injury or illness in just one year.

Australian workers compensation insurance companies are very conscious of the costs of workplace injury to both individuals and the economy, and they are working to improve the manner in which they deal with such claims. One such approach developed by Allianz Australia won it the title of Innovation of the Year at the 12th Australian Insurance Industry Awards, held in August 2015.

The award was granted for Allianz’s application of behavioural insights (BI) techniques, developing a methodology to bring injured workers back to work more quickly.

THE BI DIFFERENCE

“It’s widely recognised that absence from work is harmful to one’s physical and mental wellbeing,” says Helen Silver, Chief General Manager of Workers Compensation for Allianz Australia. “Getting injured workers back to work quicker is better for individuals, their families, employers and the sustainability of the workers compensation system. It’s a real win-win situation.”

Helen says the philosophy behind BI is to humanise dealings with injured workers and, in doing so, to boost incentives, capacity and motivation for healing and returning to work.

The BI methodology emerged in the UK, where the Cameron government developed it for use in more effectively providing government services, including bringing unemployed people back into the workforce. The system has its origins in psychology, neuroscience and behavioural economics. It is built around the idea that if people have access to the right information, they will use it for their benefit.

TAKING ACTION

Allianz teamed up with the NSW Department of Education and NSW Self Insurance Corporate (SICorp), with the aim of creating mechanisms to speed up the time taken for injured teachers to come back to work. A review of existing practices in dealing with workplace injury cases identified problem areas, particularly in the first 30 days of a claim being made. An important area for improvement was communication with the injured worker. Previously, injured employees were sent letters by both the insurer and the employer, often covering the same ground. “In workers compensation a lot of communication sent to workers in the early stages of a claim was very impersonal, sometimes confusing, and focused on legislation and rights and responsibilities,” Helen says.

Using BI principles, this correspondence was simplified, giving prominence to key messages designed to make it simpler for workers to appreciate their own responsibilities, along with those of their employer and insurer. Duplication was also removed, with one letter from the insurer and employer being sent where possible.

“All our communications now are personalised, with the aim of giving people a sense of ownership of their issue,” Helen says. This can be through simple things such as the use of workers’ first names, and guidance headings such as: ‘What do you need to do now’ or ‘Action required’.”

PART OF A TEAM

Allianz’s BI approach also involves the doctors who are treating injured workers. The insurer and employer contact them via teleconference within the first few days of a claim.

This allows the development of a plan for recovery and return to work.

Once known as injury management plans, these programs are now called work and health plans and are produced in the 10 days following the injury, compared to 21 days previously. They include input from the doctor on treatment and suggestions and commitments from the worker on what action he or she would like to take personally to aid recovery.

“Previously, it was a lot to do with what we thought the worker should do. This is now about what we are all committing to do to get the worker back to work, including the worker themselves,” says Laura Rigden, Allianz’s Acting Senior Injury Management Specialist. “We try to make it as personalised as possible.”

These worker commitments can include simple things such as taking a half-hour walk five times a week. Case managers check in with the worker regularly to support their commitment to recovery and help design new activity pledges. Such involvement helps prevent the worker from becoming isolated, which can have negative physical and psychological consequences.

DELIVERING FOR EVERYONE

While a BI approach clearly appears to offer a number of benefits on paper, the proof is in the pudding. Allianz ran a trial of the new case management process between August 2013 and June 2014, with more than 2,100 workplace injury cases.

The BI trial achieved significant results, an independent review by professional services group PwC reveals. Injured workers were nearly three times more likely to have resolved their claims within 30 days compared with a control group. They returned to work 27 per cent faster in the first 90 days and 17 per cent faster in the first 150 days, following injury.

Allianz sees its BI methodology offering significant gains across the workers compensation insurance industry. “One big opportunity is cultural change among case managers around issues like empathetic conversation, how to engage and get greater personalisation and ownership, and using simple and timely communications,” Helen says.

Importantly, significant ongoing benefits result from the adoption of BI. The physical and mental health of workers are both significantly improved by an earlier return to work. Meanwhile, employers experience reduced workers compensation premiums, making the system more sustainable, and the productivity of the workforce improves.

There is an improvement in productivity for insurers and employers in the reduction of unnecessary communications, and a greater sense of ownership for the workers.

Early case conferences benefit doctors – reducing the amount of follow-up with patients and unnecessary communications with insurers and employers.

Allianz has the potential to spread these BI-enhanced benefits well beyond the trial, given it serves 28 per cent of private sector employers in NSW and 22 per cent of Victorian Government employees. The potential benefits for all stakeholders are enormous.

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