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New services for GPs aimed at enhancing rehabilitation

Media release

20 May 2013

New services for GPs aimed at enhancing rehabilitation after injury

An evolution is happening in doctors’ surgeries across New Zealand, aimed at making better use of work-based rehabilitation to help people recover from injuries.

In February this year, ACC’s new suite of ‘Return to Work’ services was rolled out to the whole of New Zealand, having earlier been introduced to areas in the north of the North Island.

“The services are all about giving GPs the support they need to help their patients stay at work, or return to work as quickly as is safely possible, after injury,” says ACC’s acting Co-Director of Clinical Services, Dr Margaret Macky.

The benefits of making a timely return to work after injury are supported by considerable international evidence.

“The sooner you get back to work, in a safe controlled way, the better your chances of a successful rehabilitation,” says Dr Macky. “Feelings of disconnection, isolation and eventually depression are very common if you stay away from work too long. And once these feelings set in, they can really compromise your recovery.”

The benefits of work-based rehabilitation aren’t just psychological.

“The days of thinking that recovery from injury necessarily means strict rest at home are long gone,” says Dr Macky. “Nowadays, we know that for many injuries, such as simple back strain, keeping moving and engaged is actually good for you and can help recovery. So with guidance, people will generally do much better if they keep up some modified physical activity, as well as social and work participation.

“With more serious injuries, of course, returning to work immediately won’t be an option. But in many cases, with the right support, patients can return to work part-time, or carry out alternative duties, and that can lead to much better rehabilitation outcomes in the long run.”

The key to a successful recovery begins in the doctor’s surgery.

“Rather than automatically certifying you as unfit for work, most GPs will now initiate a conversation about safe levels of activity, and what you might realistically be able to do at work despite your injury.”

It’s at this point, says Dr Macky, that ACC’s Return to Work services kick in.

“We’ve made it easier for GPs to signal to ACC that support with work-based rehabilitation will be needed - because while GPs play a vital role, they can’t be expected to do it all.”

ACC has designed a new online medical certificate, so that while GPs are consulting with clients, they can alert ACC to the need for support with the click of a mouse. An ACC case owner will then contact the surgery, and arrange for a suitably qualified medical professional – usually an occupational therapist or physiotherapist – to coordinate the appropriate level of support.

“This support can range from simply visiting the patient’s workplace to assess the role and what tasks can be performed safely, to putting together a multi-disciplinary team to devise a comprehensive physical and vocational rehabilitation programme.”

Other services available under ACC’s new Return to Work banner include connecting GPs with a doctor experienced in occupational medicine, to help advise on more complex cases.

ACC is also contracting PHOs around New Zealand to provide training and education for GPs in vocational rehabilitation.

“Preventing unnecessary disability requires support and a fresh approach,” says Dr Macky, “and that’s what ACC’s Return to Work services are all about.”

“Our aim is ultimately to achieve the best possible rehabilitation for patients That’s an aim which ACC and GPs share and are both totally committed to. So it makes a lot of sense for us to work together as closely as possible towards the same goal.”


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