A number of my clients arrive at my office in burnout. Sometimes I suggest that they take short-term medical leave because they are exhausted. Sometimes that leave lasts more than 12 weeks and transitions to long-term medical leave. Today, I am writing about short-term medical leave only.
Most people know whether they have medical leave coverage as part of their benefits plan through their employer, but don’t know the details of the plan. I encourage my clients to become knowledgeable about this part of their plan quickly. A good place for them to find this information is either by looking on-line, or by asking a member of their Human Resources (HR) Department at work.
When a client agrees that going on medical leave is a good idea, I talk them through the process of how to get onto medical leave. I do this because the experience in new for most people, and it’s easier when you have a guide to walk you through the process.
I begin by asking my client if they have a family doctor. I try to always know of a family doctor who is taking new patients that I can refer the person to because sometimes people don’t have a family doctor when they arrive at my office.
I tell my clients that they will need to make an appointment with their family doctor, or make a first appointment with a physician who is accepting new patients if need be, so that the family doctor can write a note and fax it to the Human Resources Department at the person’s employer, stating that the physician is putting the person on “medical leave.” For this reason, I encourage my client’s to bring a contact name and a fax number to the appointment with the physician so that the physician knows where to send the note.
Insurance companies require that a medical doctor put people on medical leave, which is why I need a physician to be part of the treatment team. To help out, I frequently fax a letter that I have written about the client’s situation to the family doctor, to make writing the initial note easier for the physician.
Once the HR Department has received the physician’s note, they will contact the medical insurance provider directly. The HR Department will frequently give a copy of the application form for medical leave to the client and ask them to complete the form. They will also direct the client where to send it. The HR Department will also give the client a second form for their physician to complete, or will send the form to the physician directly. Either way, it is the client’s responsibility to ensure that the physician completes and returns the form.
I tell my clients that a representative of the insurance company, who will become their “case manager,” will contact them after the paperwork is received by the insurance company. Sometimes this happens quickly. Sometimes it takes several weeks or even months. I suggest that my clients be completely honest with their case manager. I suggest they share information such as planned absences, especially when the absence involves vacations that were planned before the person started medical leave.
Some of my clients express concern about whether what they tell the case manager will be shared with their employer. I tell them that this has never happened in my experience, and that an insurance company would be in trouble if the client’s confidentiality were breeched. I encourage my clients to discuss this topic with their case manager, however, so that they can learn the insurance company’s policy concerning confidentiality first-hand.
Sometimes the employer does not work with an insurance company for short-term medical leave, preferring to cover short-term leaves themselves. In these situations, which are uncommon, I have seen companies hire firms to interact with employees on short-term medical leave so that the employer remains “at arm’s length” from the employee. This is done to ensure the employee’s confidentiality is respected, and to ensure that the employer remains impartial when decisions are made concerning whether to grant medical leave or not.
If a person stays on medical leave for more than 12-weeks, which sometimes happens, most medical insurance companies will transition the person from short-term medical leave to long-term medical leave. Most case managers help my clients through this transition, although I support my clients through this transition, as well.
Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta
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