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Chronic disability syndromes including fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and chronic fatigue syndrome and mental health difficulties such as mood disorders and anxiety disorders often result in intractable, lengthy disability claims reflective of difficulties experienced by the insurer, the health-care professionals involved, and the patient. 

For many of these difficulties medication offers only limited relief.  Studies have shown that even when symptoms of pain, fatigue, depression, and anxiety are reduced that this alone does not return disabled individuals to their normal functioning. 

It is important to recognize that, for the somatic or ‘physical’ diagnoses above, none of these diagnoses identify a sinister, progressive underlying disease process or pathology; appropriately graduated physical activity (including exercises to improve cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, endurance, and strength; as well as gradual resumption of a full range of daily and vocational activities) is not in any way harmful for the patient; and early appropriate intervention can be to everyone’s benefit.

With respect to various chronic pain syndromes, the Core Curriculum for Professional Education in Pain, 3rd Edition, published by the International Association for the Study of Pain Press (2005) notes the following:

Know that personal, social and cultural influences, past and/or present, may play a significant role in the initiation, persistence and treatment responsiveness or nonresponsiveness of musculoskeletal pain and disability  page 162

Understand that psychosocial factors are the main determinant of disability and are significant predictors of prolonged work absence in painful conditions page 113.

It is common with these syndromes that psychosocial stressors play a role in the degree to which the patient becomes dysfunctional.  Factors such as: issues in the workplace (that may include a mismatch between the patient and their job, undesired or unpleasant changes in the workplace, or general job dissatisfaction); family or marital difficulties; financial or other stresses, may play a role in impairing the patient’s ability to cope with what might otherwise be far less troublesome symptoms. 

Certainly with mental health difficulties the role of psychosocial factors is well understood and must also be addressed to return the individual to a more functional life.

We are NOT suggesting that an outside influence such as job dissatisfaction is the sole or primary cause of the symptoms.  Rather, recognizing that such outside psychosocial factors may result in a patient with otherwise good coping skills, who would manage this period of symptoms without significant dysfunction, decompensating and experiencing much more difficulty. 

There is however good reason to believe that if appropriate intervention can be implemented with the support and engagement of the patient’s primary health-care practitioners, many of the situations that serve to entrench these disabilities might be avoided.  Therefore the duration of the patient’s suffering and dysfunction, and the claim, can be shortened significantly.

From both a social and an economic perspective, long term disability prevention and associated management strategies for assisting employees and companies are successful only if they address the non-medial, psychosocial factors that have been proven to contribute to frequent and prolonged absences from the workplace. 

Odyssey Health Services’ Stepped Care approach provides disability insurers with the tools to manage these complex files more efficiently and effectively.