Integrating information can help drive better outcomes across workplace leave programs.
RETURN TO WORK
As employer needs
have grown more
absence and disability
provide an answer.
By Michelle Kerr
Despite the significant buzz surrounding the concept of integrated isability management when it emerged, it never became quite the industry standard that many expected. Two decades later, however, employers are finding new reasons to take an interest. “Back in the mid ’90s, IDM emerged as a hot topic, but the
focus at that point was on creating a single organizational unit to manage both
occupational and non-occupational disabilities,” explained Tom Parry, president
emeritus and co-founder of the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI).
“And as you might imagine, the people in those separate units didn’t like the
idea of someone winning and someone losing.”
People worried, perhaps justifiably, that bringing together occupational and
non-occupational programs would mean consolidation, and that jobs would be
eliminated, said Parry. So there was tremendous pushback against establishing one
And while those separate organizational units are still in place, a great many
other things have changed. Employers, particularly large ones, have achieved a
high level of claims sophistication. Newer claims technologies and analytics are
allowing them insight into their data at a level never before imagined, prompting
employers to leverage that data to find opportunities to improve absence and
disability management across programs “rather than trying to break down walls
between them,” said Parry.
“I think that we’ve realized that sharing information, creating integrated
databases, and really looking at and using data as a way to identify real issues is
really what’s driving this process,” he said.
As opposed to only viewing data within silos, integrating information allows
employers to see commonalities across programs that might not otherwise be
obvious, and also can help identify opportunities to share practices and resources
for the benefit of all programs.
“If you can benchmark the [individual programs] by diagnosis,” said Parry,
“then you can start to look across programs and see — does the workers’ comp
side do a better job with back injuries, for example? What kinds of diagnoses
are prominent in both systems? and how can I bring a strategy in medical
management and return to work that really focuses on those as the first step?”
The economic and labor landscapes have changed as well. Companies are
operating leaner, and upheavals in numerous industries have created talent
shortages. Now, more than ever, employers are grasping how each absence takes a
toll on the company, even beyond the obvious.
Matt Sears, executive vice president of employee benefits at EPIC, related a
story about a meeting with a CFO of a large national retailer. Sears was in the
process of translating the company’s lost days into dollars and cents when the
CFO asked him to explain the lost days again.
“That’s more important to me,” the CFO said to Sears. “We deliver to our
“I think that we’ve realized that
customers, so if I have people who are missing days that means we’re missing
delivery deadlines. That’s going to reduce sales for us and ruin our reputation —
I’m more interested in how many of those days you can solve.”
“A lot of employers are starting to
recognize that the Holy Grail isn’t
claims costs,” said Sears. “The Holy
Grail is productivity gains.”
That’s also why employers are
shaking off the old thinking that non-
occupational injuries should be treated
with a hands-off approach, said Parry.
He said there’s a growing focus on
utilizing return-to-work programs for
short-term disability, and looking for
opportunities to improve medical care
and shorten disability durations.
sharing information, creating
integrated databases, and really
looking at and using data as a way
to identify real issues is really
what’s driving this process.”
—Tom Parry, president emeritus and co-founder,
Integrated Benefits Institute
• More employers now perceive
absence as a business issue, not
just a benefits issue.
• An integrated platform is well
suited to manage the myriad of
• Providers can help employers
focus on what matters most.