An uncooperative worker's doctor

As a return to work coordinator, how might you work with a doctor who is being uncooperative?


My worker's doctor is being 'uncooperative'

Overwhelmingly doctors do their best to work with employers during the return to work process. Sometimes doctors may appear to be uncooperative but they may actually just be flat out dealing with ill patients, or they may not know what you need.

Approximately 3% of your average doctor's patient list is made up of workers with workers compensation claims and doctors don't typically receive any training on assisting their patients back to work. So, don't assume that doctors are deliberately being uncooperative; it's likely they don't know what you need/want. Making things as easy and clear for them as you can will help you both!

Only 41% of doctors believe that their patient's employer wants their patient back at work. Only 27% believe that the employer will stick to the restrictions they outline on their certificate and only 22% have confidence in the employer's RTW Coordinator. Based on these perceptions, and before you come to the conclusion that your worker's doctor is being uncooperative, you should talk to the doctor about the best way to communicate with them and seek to reassure your worker's doctor that:

  • their patient is a vital part of your workplace and you want to help them in any way you can with their recovery
  • your workplace is safe (issues that caused the injury have been resolved, if appropriate)
  • you have suitable duties available for them as soon as they are ready
  • their patient will be supported and monitored throughout their recovery
  • you will contact them if a restriction they outline in their certificates is unclear
  • monitor and support their patient throughout their recovery and RTW.

Make sure you are prepared before any contact with the doctor – your conversations and communications should reassure the doctor that you are capable and trustworthy and that you know the limits of your expertise (for example, that you will ask for help when you need it and not make assumptions about their patient's capabilities).

Show the doctor that you want to support their patient and be proactive; don't wait for the doctor to call you.

Applying the principles above will improve your chances of having an effective relationship with your worker's doctor. They should make your life easier, though it's worth noting that doctors are not obliged to respond to employer queries.

While the majority of doctors, despite their busy schedules, make time for employer queries, unfortunately some doctors refuse to acknowledge emails, letters or phone calls in relation to return to work. Although there is not much that can be done to force a response, you should document these attempts. As an employer, the obligation to consult with the worker's treating health practitioner is not negated because you have to deal with an 'uncooperative' doctor.

It's important that you can demonstrate that you have made all reasonable efforts to consult with your worker's doctor.

WorkSafe continues to actively work with doctors to improve their understanding of workers compensation matters and how they can assist both workers and employers to achieve early, safe and sustainable return to work outcomes.

Solve return to work problems

Return to work coordinators play a valuable role in helping an injured worker get back to work. Find out how to solve common return to work problems to help you if you're having difficulty supporting an injured worker.

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