Occupational Rehabilitation in COVID-19 

Published on 04 Dec 2020

Man sitting at his desk with a coffee cup, participating in a video conference call

Friday 13th March was the start of the Pandemic shutdown which changed the way that all Australian’s work.

Over the next 8 months, workplace rehabilitation was to play an essential role for “ensuring not just recovery or return to work, but also ensuring work readiness, maintained capacity and connection to the world of work” (ARPA Annual Review).

Whilst legislative guidelines did not change, and referrals continued to roll in, the Occupational Rehabilitation industry – traditionally reliant on a physical presence within workplaces, intrastate travel and face to face meetings – had to adapt.

At APM, continuity of client care was paramount, whilst supporting them through significant – and evolving – changes, including how they were working, where they were working and how they received treatment.

Initiatives at APM included:

  • APM’s Client Support Plan and THP Engagement Plan, aimed to:
    • Engage the client with understanding and adapting to the changing environment
    • Identify any additional support needs arising from COVID-19
    • Identify any increase in psychosocial risk factors
    • Identify any new barriers to participation in the ongoing rehabilitation programme
    • Identify any need for alternate treatment arrangements
  • APM’s Remote Workplace Assessment checklist, which engaged and supported Employers’ when assessing the task demands of specific roles where face to face workplace review could not occur. The information gained from the checklist provided our Consultants with vital information to ensure a safe and durable return to work plan could be developed and monitored.

Throughout the COVID-19 restrictions, our APM team managed to work through the challenges of virtual service provision and changing environments:

  • Increased difficulty with developing and maintain rapport
  • Technological issues – lack of access or understanding from stakeholders
  • Reduced opportunity for easy collaboration with colleagues
  • Social isolation and psychosocial challenges associated with this
  • Delays for clients to access appropriate treatment via telehealth
  • Altered labour markets

Despite all these challenges, consultants could still achieve fantastic outcomes for our clients. When comparing data for March-October for both 2019 and 2020, we saw very little change in our RTW rates or service completion rates.

Additionally, further benefits were noted for the consultants themselves and our clients:

  • Work/life balance ratio improved
  • More flexible working hours
  • Reduced travelling time, resulting in more time for client support activities
  • Increased engagement from clients due to ease of accessibility to our teams

“Continuity of care was a focus for APM throughout the pandemic. We are really pleased that not only did we achieve this, but we’ve been able to adopt some great innovations on an ongoing basis for the benefit of our clients, customers and people“ Carrie Evans, APM WorkCare Operational Excellent Manager.