Chronic Pain Claims

One of the symptoms of an ongoing injury is pain.  Employees who have sustained work-related injuries will almost always have some degree of pain associated with their injuries.  During their course of treatment with medical professionals, hopefully the pain will quickly decrease and disappear.  However, in some situations, the pain does not go away, and an employee may claim to have a chronic pain condition.  Chronic pain is a serious problem with special considerations for workers’ compensation cases.

Opioid pain killers can frequently be the first line of defense used by medical professionals against pain for employees who have been injured on the job.  While there are certainly valid and important reasons to prescribe opioids for chronic pain conditions, opioids also come with a high risk of abuse or addiction.   It can also cause more harm than good in the long term, and can even lead to the worsening of pain.  One alternative that some doctors and employees are exploring is the use of medical marijuana.  Medical marijuana has proven to be effective against chronic pain for many adults.  With the use of medical marijuana or opioids, employers should be aware of the risks that come along with an employee using these substances.  An injured employee who has returned to work but who still suffers chronic pain and is prescribed a medication to address the condition may not be suitable for certain types of work accommodation.  For example, an employee still using heavy pain killers should probably not be operating heavy, industrial machinery.  Employers should be cognizant of this potential issue when crafting a return-to-work plan for the employee.

Although many chronic pain conditions resulting from work-related injuries are valid claims, there are also other issues in play.  The American Medical Association conducted a study in 2013 that determined that the potential for compensation “is the primary risk factor for chronic pain in a claim context.”  In many cases, the AMA found that patients were more likely to have an injury that lasts longer and requires more treatment if the patient is involved in a law suit, such as a workers’ compensation claim.  For example, the study found that a patient was likely to report a headache was gone after one day if there was no claim, but reported pain for fifteen days if there was a claim.  The AMA did not come to the conclusion the patients were lying, merely that there is a psychological impact of an ongoing claim on a patient’s condition.  An employer should make sure that a medical provider’s evaluation clearly specifies whether the medical diagnosis provides a detailed explanation for the chronic pain condition, especially as it relates to the workers’ compensation claim.

Employers should be sensitive to the fact that some employees really do suffer chronic pain, while still being vigilant for issues that will negatively impact the business.  Contact us today at (714) 516-8188 to talk about questions you may have about your business’s responsibilities.

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