Having Work Comp Troubles? This simple checklist could save your program.

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There is a common thread among ill-run work comp programs and it is very easy to see if you are looking for it.  It’s basic, it’s easy, and it’s so simple to implement, but we often don’t think it is worth our time.  So, what is this rudimentary tool that we think we are too good to use? The checklist?

After evaluating more than 200 work comp programs since 1998, one thing is certain – you have to do the basics.  And the basics start with a checklist.  When I sit down with the front-line work comp managers they start to show me their war badges – “I’ve been doing this for 20 years” and “I have handled more claims than anyone” and “It’s all right here in my head.”  Then we look at the files and they’re a mess.  The basic paperwork  is missing, they haven’t read the actual forms to notice that key elements have not been completed and it goes on.    You may be asking – does filling out paperwork really matter?  Yes – it matters a lot.   It sends a message that you care about the program and that message runs its way through every aspect of your program.

So why don’t we use the checklist?

There are several reasons why we fail to use a checklist and most of them are wrapped up in our own ego.

  • We don’t have time to complete a checklist
  • It’s too cumbersome
  • We don’t like to try new things
  • They pay us to much to use a simple checklist

Whatever your reason for not using a checklist, just remember that pilots and surgeons all over the world use checklists everyday.  And more than 90% of them will tell you that the checklist has prevented an error or saved a life.

I believe that the reason we don’t use checklists more often is that we don’t understand how to design a good one.  We design terrible checklists that list every action that should be taken and it ends up being 4 pages long. When we go to use it, it drives us crazy and we throw it in the trash.   A good checklist should fit on one page, have 5 to 7 items and tackle the red flags in the program.

Let’s look at a simple item.  State required paperwork.  Here in California, two forms are required – the DWC-1 and the 5020 when a claim kicks off.  Most of us would start by writing the first few checklist items like this:

  1. Rec’d DWC-1
  2. Rec’d 5020
  3. DWC is complete
  4. DWC is signed by employee
  5. DWC is signed by supervisor
  6. 5020 is complete
  7. 5020 is signed by supervisor

That’s just  too much and it will drive you crazy.  The better list looks like this:

  1. State forms completed and signed

You already have a good understanding of what forms are required and you most likely will never forget the names of those two forms.  But we need to make sure that we have both of them and that they are completed and signed before moving on.

Types of Checklist

There are two basic types of checklists as explained in the book The Checklist Manifesto.  Their names describe them well.

Do Confirm

You guessed it.  This is where your 20 years of experience can be put to use.  You know the steps, you live the steps, but you check off the items to make sure that your aging memory has not failed you.  This checklist is a great tool for catching those problems before they arise.

Read Do

The Read Do checklist works in reverse.  This type of checklist is great for those extraordinary times, the one offs’, the not-the-everyday-issues.  Something unexpected has happened and you don’t deal with the issue on a regular basis, so you go to the Read Do checklist.  The items are there as a procedure manual and if you follow them, you will get through the problem with minimal scaring.

 What type works best for work comp?

The Do Confirm checklist, in my experience, is the best checklist for the majority of work comp issues.  The work comp process is standard and prescribed in most states.  If you have handled work comp for any length of time, you should understand the general workings claim setup process.  It is unlikely that you need reminders to call the TPA or put all the paperwork in a file folder.  Confirming that you checked the paperwork for errors and sending the message to you supervisors and employees that you are looking over the work is what matters most.

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