Physical Capacity Evaluations (PCEs)* are scientifically designed to determine an injured worker’s physical limitations. PCEs typically last 3 to 6 hours over a 1 or 2 day period. Generally, they include a series of tests involving lifting, carrying, sitting, standing, walking, and material handling. The end result is a comprehensive report providing a very detailed analysis of physical abilities over a 40 hour work week. These reports are very important since they are used to determine ability to work for time loss, pension, return to work and retraining purposes.
The therapist will use several validity tests to make sure the worker is providing maximum effort. For example, the therapist may measure the worker’s heart rate during different times. Generally, it would be expected to increase if the worker is in pain or giving maximum effort. Additionally, the therapists are trained to watch for a worker not trying or exaggerating pain complaints.
Advice: Do not take pain medications before the exam, unless directed by your doctor. The medication could mask the pain and discomfort, providing an unrealistic picture of your physical abilities.
Generally, I like PCEs because they are usually a better measure of physical restrictions than a doctor who might spend 10 or 15 minutes with a worker during a physical exam. Additionally, PCEs look at the worker as a whole person, including the residuals from the work related condition(s) and any pre-existing conditions.
Many times an injured worker will have different doctors treating different body parts or one doctor who only treats the work related condition, and is not familiar with the worker’s pre-existing conditions. In these situations, PCEs are critical.
Recently, I had a case where the PCE results found an injured worker unable to perform her job of injury, and all her transferable skilled jobs. Based on the PCE, the Department was going to retrain or pension her. However, her doctor disagreed with the PCE and said she was able to work. The Department terminated her time loss. It turned out her doctor was only looking at her work related condition, not her pre-existing conditions. He was not looking at her as a whole person. We gathered all of her medical records and sent them to her doctor. As a result, he changed his opinion and agreed with the PCE findings.
Dane D. Ostrander, Attorney at Law
Williams, Wyckoff & Ostrander, PLLC