The goal of rehabilitation therapy is to help patients return to normal activities following an injury or illness.
Part of the process includes a Functional Capacity Evaluation, where a therapist and rehabilitation medicine physician determine whether a patient can safely return to work.
Regional One Health’s Dardhielle Jean, OTR/L, CHT says patients can expect to spend about four hours on the test and will perform a variety of tasks related to general function as well as job-specific needs.
An injury or illness can have a lasting effect on strength and function, so part of the rehabilitation process involves determining when a patient can safely return to work and other activities.
During National Rehab Week, Regional One Health’s rehabilitation professionals are educating patients about the many services they offer. Dardhielle Jean, OTR/L, CHT, not only helps patients recover through occupational and hand therapy, she and her colleagues offer Functional Capacity Evaluations to determine when patients can resume work and other activities.
“It’s an evaluation to determine an individual’s ability to go back to the workplace,” Jean said. “For some patients, it involves determining if they can go back to a specific job. For others, it’s part of accessing disability benefits if they’re unable to work.”
Jean said patients are typically referred by their primary care physician. When she receives a referral, she gathers information about the patient’s injury or illness and overall health and then contacts them to let them know what to expect.
“Patients should expect to be here for about four hours, since the goal is to gauge whether they can perform tasks associated with an 8-hour workday,” she said. “They should wear comfortable clothes so they’re able to perform physical tasks.”
Jean starts the evaluation by asking the patient about their prior work experience, how long ago and why they stopped working, their diagnosis, their pain level and their general medical history.
She demonstrates tasks the patient will perform, including sitting, standing, walking, balancing, lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling, as well as cognitive skills, endurance, and fine motor skills like in-hand manipulation.
She encourages patients to give their full effort and addresses their concerns about injury or discomfort. “If I feel what they’re doing is unsafe for any reason – whether it’s their balance or posture, or they’re having a lot of pain or fatigue – we’ll stop the evaluation,” she said.
The evaluation itself varies based on a patient’s condition and goals.
Some patients with chronic conditions like spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis and stroke might not be able to return to work and could require disability benefits. Jean assesses general strength and mobility, fine motor skills and cognition through a series of tasks.
When a patient is looking to return to work after an injury, their Functional Capacity Evaluation is tailored to their specific job. “It’s geared to the tasks they would do. If they’re a firefighter, we see if they can go up and down stairs with heavy equipment. If they’re writing or typing, we look at the fine motor skills and cognitive skills that go along with that.”
Job-specific evaluations usually occur after the patient has been doing physical, occupational and speech therapy for some time and has reached a baseline of function.
Jean works closely with a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Physician to determine if a patient can safely resume work. Because PMR Physicians have additional expertise in assessing overall strength, endurance and functionality, they can offer crucial insight into what is safe for the patient in terms of activities.
“Together we assess the patient’s condition and compare it to the demands of their job,” she said. “We can make a determination if it’s safe and possible for the patient to return to work.”
While some patients are cleared to work, others might need more rehabilitation therapy or what’s known as “work hardening,” where therapists work specifically on job-related skills.