Workers' compensation authorities and insurers regularly communicate with injured people and employers, but some research indicates that poor communication can contribute to patient distress and have an impact on Return to Work and recovery outcomes. This literature review explores the impact of poor communication especially as it relates to letter writing. 

Letters are often the preferred mode of communication within compensation schemes, as both the sender and receiver of the message can keep the document for future reference. In some Australian states, legislation also requires that key compensation decisions be communicated in writing (such as the acceptance or denial of a claim, or advice about changes to income benefits).

At WorkSafe, the primary mode of communication between claims agents, injured workers and employers is the 'standard letter.' When this project was initiated, there were more than 300 'standard letters' in operation at the organisation.

There was concern that this complexity could be hindering effective engagement between the WorkSafe and its clients and influencing poor outcomes, so Dr Dianne Sheppard from the Monash Accident Research Centre led a team to investigate the issue.

The team's objective was to determine whether this concerns were valid, and to identify best practice in this area to assist in the development of more efficient and effective communication tools for WorkSafe.

Where to next?

This research confirmed that recipients were indeed dissatisfied with the overwhelming amount and general readability of written information provided by workers' compensation authorities or their agents. 

The report found that injured workers generally perceive the written forms of communication as unfamiliar, impersonal, complex, full of jargon, and difficult to understand. They regularly need help with interpreting workers' compensation forms and letters, and often experience negative relationships with the system's case workers that may, in part, be caused by the misinterpretation of information provided. 

The project's final report lists the following issues as worthy of consideration by WorkSafe: 

  • The mode of communication of important decisions and whether these are preferable to alternative modes; 
  • The clarity/complexity of information communicated;
  • The perceived adequacy of information, particularly for those with limited health literacy and for those with particular cultural and social backgrounds; and
  • Whether other organisations have reviewed, and subsequently implemented changes to, communication processes.

Generally, the report highlights that new trends in communication in this industry are inclined towards providing clear, unambiguous and concise written information and an overall reduction in written information, with a corresponding increase in alternative modes of communication such as verbal, online and web-based help-line resources.