Work disability benefits? Depends on the doctor

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THURSDAY, Jan. 26, 2017 — Medical professionals give widely varying opinions about whether claimants for work disability benefits should get those benefits, researchers report.

After a disabling illness or injury, many workers seek benefits to replace their lost wages. Insurers provide benefits for employees who are evaluated and deemed eligible.

Medical professionals are hired by insurers to evaluate these employees, but there have been concerns about the quality of these evaluations, the researchers explained.

The research team, led by Dr. Regina Kunz from the University of Basel in Switzerland, analyzed 23 studies conducted between 1992 and 2016 in 12 countries in North America, Europe, Australia, the Middle East and Asia.

In 63 percent of the studies, there was only low to moderate agreement in medical experts’ opinions about disability benefits claimants’ ability to work. Higher levels of agreement were strongly linked with the use of a standardized assessment method.

The findings are “disconcerting” and point to the need for “substantial investment in research to improve assessment of disability,” according to Kunz and colleagues.

The study was published Jan. 25 in the BMJ.

“Despite their widespread use, medical evaluations of work disability show high variability and often low reliability. Use of standardized and validated instruments to guide the process could improve reliability,” the researchers said in a journal news release.

However, they noted that few countries have such standardized assessments.

There “is an urgent need for high quality research, conducted in actual insurance settings, to explore promising strategies to improve agreement in evaluation of capacity to work,” Kunz’s team noted.

More information

The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has more on work safety and health.

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