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Working Wonders

Providence Occupational Medicine helps people heal and return to their careers

After Lisa sustained an ankle injury on the job, she got a helping hand from the Spokane, WA Occupational Medicine Program at Providence.It was a Friday afternoon in October, and Lisa had just finished a visit at a client’s home. Lisa, who lives in Spokane and is a case manager for a health care organization, was headed out the door as she turned to share a few more words with her client.

“I continued to walk backward and didn’t realize there was a five-inch step,” Lisa says. “I stepped off backward and rolled my right ankle.”

Losing her balance, Lisa fell to the sidewalk.

“We ended up calling the fire department, and they came and put a stabilizer on my leg,” she recalls. “We didn’t know if it was broken, and my ankle swelled up like a baseball.”

Lisa spent the evening in the emergency department at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

“I found out I’d sprained it,” she says, adding that it was a third-degree sprain. “Then, I learned I needed to talk to my primary care doctor because I had sustained the injury on the job.”

Also, she was required to complete paperwork for the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), which manages workers’ compensation claims and pays benefits.

Lisa was nervous about her injury and about navigating the L&I process—until she learned about the Occupational Medicine program at Providence.

Help at Just the Right Time

On the Monday after the accident, Lisa discovered she wouldn’t be able to see her primary care doctor for several days. She was instructed to go to an urgent care center but struggled to find one that handled L&I claims.

“Then, I got a call from Providence Occupational Medicine,” she says. The caller explained that the program could provide medical care and help with paperwork. “It was perfect timing,” she says.

The next day, Lisa had her first appointment at Providence Occupational Medicine – 5th and Division.

“That began a long and really great relationship,” she says. “I never had problems with any of the paperwork, and I never had problems with getting appointments.”

Program Offerings

Occupational medicine deals with the treatment and prevention of job-related illnesses and injuries—from managing workers’ compensation claims to pre-employment screenings, explains John Smith, director of Providence Occupational Medicine, which opened last July. The program offers the following services:

  • Substance testing
  • Hearing conservation
  • Vision screening
  • Fit-for-duty/pre-employment assessments
  • Department of Transportation certification
  • Physical therapy, massage and occupational therapy for injured workers
  • On-site radiology and laboratory services

There’s a key diff erence between Providence’s Occupational Medicine Program and the way this care is traditionally provided, notes Tom Martin, program integration manager for Providence Health Care. “If you’re an injured worker in the traditional model, you would go to your primary care provider, or you would go to the ER or urgent care, where you’d be triaged and sent on to a doctor who’d manage your care,” he says. “Then, that doctor might send you to a separate imaging center, a separate specialist, and a separate physical therapy facility.”

In this scenario, Martin explains, a patient uses more resources (which can mean more time in recovery and more dollars) and lacks the benefit of care coordination.

“In our model, we have all the services under one medical network, united by a common electronic medical record, where all the doctors are communicating in real time,” he adds. That benefits both the patient and the employer. “Partnering with primary care physicians and specialists to better manage the specific nuances of a claim allows for improved patient and employer satisfaction and a timely return to work. It is the medical home model for the injured worker population.”

Stephanie Stoke, M.D., a Spokane, WA Occupational Medicine specialist, notes that Providence providers help with the administrative aspects of returning to work, including paperwork, phone calls to employers and claims manager communication.

Stephanie Stoke, M.D., a Providence physician who is board certified in occupational and environmental medicine, adds that her team of providers refers patients back to their primary care physicians for medical conditions not related to the workplace injury. And they work hand-in-hand with Providence’s orthopedic surgeons and other specialists to provide concurrent care when necessary.

“The surgeons do what they do best—surgery—and my providers handle all other aspects of return to work: paperwork, phone calls to employers, claims manager communication, etc.,” Dr. Stoke says. “Our goal is to get every injured worker back to work so they can remain employed and insured.”

Providence’s Occupational Medicine staff includes physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and medical assistants. In addition to the downtown location, there’s a second site on Hawthorne Road. A third one is slated to open at Providence Medical Park in August to make getting care even more convenient.

“We want injured workers and employers to know that at Providence, we’ve got you covered,” Martin says. “We’ll make sure the patient’s care is coordinated, and we’ll advocate for them to expedite a timely return to work. We will also make sure that the needs of the employers are addressed throughout the process. It is a team approach in creating a healthier workforce.”

Simplifying Red Tape

For Lisa, getting help with the L&I paperwork was a tremendous advantage of the program.

“Working with any kind of government agency, you want to make sure the paperwork is done right the first time,” she says. “You want to make sure you’re going to have your claim accepted.”

At Providence, Lisa found experts who helped her with the paperwork from the beginning, verified how many days she had for therapy and helped her get the additional therapy days she needed, too.

“They always had the paperwork ready so my human resources supervisor could have it. I never received any phone calls from work about it,” Lisa says. “Providence made it easy.”

It also helped keep her attention on recovering. “The paperwork headache wasn’t something I had to focus on,” she says. “So I could focus on getting healthier, my job and my family.”

Her Path to Recovery

Lisa went to physical therapy three times a week. She received integrated care by utilizing on-site physical and massage therapies, ice, and electrical stimulation provided by the therapists at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute.

“All of the therapists communicated with one another,” she says. “That collaboration really helped. I felt I was getting the best expertise.”

Lisa returned to work within a week, though she relied on others for transportation for 3½ weeks before she could resume driving. She started on crutches and progressed to a brace and a boot.

Lisa was given a realistic time frame from the beginning, which was helpful, she says. The staff’s positive attitudes were encouraging as well.

Lisa was released from the Occupational Medicine Program in January. Since then, she says she’s resumed her normal activity.

“I’ve gone walking. I’ve gone hiking,” she says. “I’ve even worn heels!”