In the event of a workplace injury or work-related illness, employees can file a claim to receive benefits — including wage loss benefits and medical benefits, among others — to cover expenses while they recover. This is called worker’s compensation.
Upon returning to the job, however, it’s important to ensure that the employee in question is actually fit to come back to work, and in what capacity. The last thing an employer or their insurers want is for a worker to return from paid recovery leave too soon, potentially posing another risk to themselves and others.
This is where the Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) comes into play. The FCE – in conjunction with information from both your employer and your physician – provides the foundation for a seamless return-to-work process. Here are a few things you should know about Functional Capacity Evaluations before taking one.
First, all FCEs are performed by trained physicians, physical therapists, or chiropractors, depending on your previous injury and claim. These trained medical professionals use their experience in biomechanics to evaluate your movement patterns, such as your ability to walk, bend, and lift and carry objects. Physicians will be able to pinpoint any problematic areas in your movement patterns that could pertain to your prior injury, and judge whether or not your body has healed enough to return to the workplace.
If the physician observes that you still show signs of injury, his next job is to examine what must be done moving forward. For example, it is not enough to simply identify that you can only lift 25 pounds from the floor; additional questions must be answered. “How well was the patient able to lift the required pounds before her injury?” “Could she lift more if she was properly trained or rehabbed?” “If so, how long would the rehabilitation process take? And if not, why not?” By adding these questions to a patient’s FCE, physicians aren’t simply deeming an employee fit to return to work or not; they’re also presenting said employee with medical options and continuing therapy as they see fit.
The actual FCE procedure tests a wide array of physical attributes in an employee, based on their injury and job. Most FCEs test:
Of course, proper FCE testing stresses a “safety first” philosophy. A professional who adheres to this philosophy will not allow you to be injured while in his care; therefore, communication between the physician and the patient is crucial for accurate results.
That being said, the FCE is not a guarantee against re-injury. Instead, it helps employers and insurers understand the physical condition of an employee who was injured on the job, as well as gauge his motivation to return to the workplace. The FCE is also not a sufficient way to determine whether or not an employee is faking an injury. While the FCE is currently the only legally defensible and reliable tool that the medical, legal, and employment community has to support a fair and safe opinion for return to gainful employment, it is still up to you to communicate with your physician with clarity and honesty.
Depending on a variety of factors – the nature of the workplace, the type of injury or illness, how long your leave of absence was, etc. – FCEs can take up to two days to perform. The additional day of testing can help better demonstrate how your ability to function decreases with activity, thus helping the insurer understand why you might not be able to sustain a normal work schedule. Whether or not your FCE testing takes place in one day or two is up to the medical opinion of the physician and shouldn’t be considered a gauge to judge the severity of your injury or illness.
At the Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics - MMI Division, we have a staff of skilled physical therapists dedicated to getting you back to work as quickly as possible. Contact us for more information or to schedule an appointment.