Compensation systems are designed to return injured people to health and work as quickly as possible, to minimise the impact an injury has on an individual and the community. There are, however, growing concerns that these systems may actually be having the opposite effect.
Some studies have suggested that individuals with compensable injuries experience worse rates of return to work and health and wellbeing than those with matching injuries that fall outside of compensation systems.
These studies, however, have been limited in their usefulness, due to weaknesses in their scientific methods.
A research team led by Professor David Studdert from the University of Melbourne devised the Health Effects of Compensation Systems (HECS) Study to overcome these shortcomings and provide more definitive information on the topic.
The HECS team assessed the health, wellbeing and return to work rates of a group of more than 300 people with compensable injury resulting in hospitalisation across Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia.
The project's objective was to identify the most stressful aspects of the claim process, assess whether a stressful claim experience could be associated with poorer long-term recovery after injury, and propose interventions to reduce the stressfulness of claims.
Where to now?
The HECS study concluded with a report, confirming that over half of compensation claimants experience moderate-to-high stress levels during their claim processes (particularly with regards to understanding what they needed to do for the claim, and the time required to do it).
The report also found that those who report high levels of stress are indeed at increased risk of poor long-term recovery after injury. They have higher levels of anxiety, depression and disability.
The research team recommended that compensation bodies redesign claim processes and procedures to make them less stressful, and introduce interventions to identify claimaints most at risk of having stressful claim experiences (i.e. those with post-traumatic stress disorder or depression).
In addition to the report, the research team also published their findings in a journal article.
Based on this evidence, both the TAC and WorkSafe have since initiated changes to make their claim processes faster and more accessible.