Why Insult and Injury?

As a young doctor working as the Health & Safety Manager with Hydro Tasmania (then the Hydro-Electric Commission), I had experience of main stream media. I was asked by management to participate in an interview with the Mercury newspaper about some of the good work we were doing with Health Promotion Programmes for the workforce. I dutifully discussed with the journalist who came to interview me the programmes we were organising to help employees improve their lifestyle, including alcohol and drug programmes.

The following Sunday morning I was awaken by a call from my boss, the HR manager, drawing my attention to the headline on the Sunday Tasmanian. The headline, the exact wording of which I can’t remember, stated that the Hydro was full of hopeless drunks. This was at a time that the West Coast construction schemes were winding down and the redundant workers were trying to find alternative employment. Understandably the unions were outraged about this slur on their members. My penance was that I had to travel around the state meeting and apologising to workers about my revelations to the media.

I learnt from that episode, not only to be careful with media, but that for something to be newsworthy, it needs to be ‘sexy’.

As a practitioner in private medical practice, I wanted to contribute to debate from my experience of the problems with the workers compensation system. Not only to raise issues, but to put forward solutions. That is difficult as a solo practitioner.

A few years ago I made a concerted effort to get a ‘Letter to the Editor’ published in the Mercury newspaper. After some persistence including discussions with a journalist insider, I managed to get a letter published. I was disappointed with the response. A few diehards contacted me direct, but nothing much else happened. I must however thank the Mercury  for the heading they used to publish my letter ‘Adding Insult to Injury”, as I have adapted that name as the title of this blog.

I took to providing feedback to WorkCover Tasmania direct and have found that satisfying and at times rewarding, but not the same as reaching a wider audience about the issues.

Recently I have participated in discussions with AMA Tasmania about the problems with the workers compensation system in Tasmania. There are certainly widespread concerns by doctors about how the system operates and the AMA issued a press release just prior to the recent Tasmanian election. While a small article appeared in the back pages of the Mercury it didn’t receive much publicity at all. I was told by several people in the industry that the issue isn’t ‘sexy enough’  to rate much coverage.

Despite this it is clear to me that this is an important issue, particularly for those that have the misfortune to be injured at work and those trying to help them recover.

The literature is clear that people whose injuries are managed within a compensation system have worse outcomes, but why? Insurers would have you believe it is all because of fraud, secondary gain or that injured workers don’t want to get better. In reality it is more complex. Certainly there are issues about ‘taking responsibility’  for one’s own recovery that can be lacking within a compensation system, but there are many other factors that affect the outcome. Important issues include stigmatisation of workers who put in claims and lack of access to appropriate treatment. The system often unreasonably questions a person’s genuineness, creating a response to prove there has been injury. The system of claims management remains adversarial. Responses include the development of secondary psychological illness which can be more disabling than the original injury. These issues can have dramatic effects on injured workers, i.e. Adding Insult to Injury.

My view is that in a properly designed compensation system the outcomes can be virtually the same as outcomes for the same injuries managed outside a compensation system.

In this blog Insult and Injury, I hope to provide constructive comments to the politicians and bureaucrats that design our systems to help reduce the extent of that insult from the system. I have given up writing to the Main Stream Media. I have accepted that this issue does not sell newspapers.

See my brief video clip where I explain this http://vimeo.com/105348272

See also my latest post  – Let me Explain!


About Tasworkdoc

As an occupational physician in private medical practice in Hobart, Tasmania - the southernmost state of Australia, I see workers referred by their general practitioners with various types of work-related injuries and diseases. These are mostly musculoskeletal injuries, both of traumatic and gradual onset as well as various associated psychological disorders. With interaction with patients for treatment and providing advice about rehabilitation, I have the opportunity, first-hand, to observe interactions between individual patients and compensation systems. I also conduct independent medical assessments, including impairment assessments for musculoskeletal injuries and asbestos-related disease compensation. This provides another perspective of workers within compensation systems.
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