About six in 10 U.S. workers who've been hospitalized for an injury return to their jobs, but physical disabilities and financial struggles are common, researchers say.
For the study, investigators analyzed federal survey data from trauma patients who were hospitalized with injuries between 2008 and 2017. The patients completed the surveys about seven weeks, on average, after leaving the hospital.
Nearly 60% returned to their jobs, but more than half had medical debt, and close to one-quarter went without additional care because they couldn't afford it, the study authors said.
"Today, the overwhelming majority of trauma patients survive to be discharged, which allows us to think bigger and say, 'Hey, this is a patient's life I'm trying to save. It's not just their beating heart,'" said study author Dr. Pooja Neiman. She is a research fellow at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and a general surgery resident at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
The injured workers were also more likely than their colleagues to have food insecurity, physical disability, and difficulty affording and accessing health care, according to the report published online recently in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery.
Returning to their jobs after hospitalization for an injury can be an important indicator that people are healthy enough to resume their typical, pre-injury lifestyles, but this is the first study to examine such rates nationally, the researchers said.
"This metric equips us to understand a patient's lived experience beyond us treating them in the hospital," Neiman said in a university news release.
Further research is needed to explain the study's findings, she said.
For example, it's not clear if the relatively high return-to-work rate indicates that people are receiving appropriate follow-up care to recover quickly or if they're going back to work before they're medically ready due to financial concerns.
"We see this paper as an initial spotlight on the issue," Neiman said. "But unanswered questions remain. More studies are needed to inform the end policy that best gets people back to work and financially whole after their injury."
There are also questions about racial and ethnic differences in return-to-work rates, she added. A follow-up study will try to assess racial differences by examining environmental influences, such as housing, on return-to-work rates.
The U.S. National Institute of General Medical Sciences has more on physical trauma.
SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, March 31, 2021