If you are in the process of recovering from a work-related injury, you may have heard the term “FCE” and wondered, “What in the world is that?” A functional capacity evaluation (FCE) is a comprehensive test for measuring a worker’s physical abilities and limitations with regard to the performance of a variety of real and/or simulated work activities. An injured worker is typically referred for an FCE once his condition has reached the level of maximum medical improvement and the ability for the worker to return to gainful employment is in question. The worker’s performance during the FCE is compared to his specific job description to determine if he can safely tolerate the physical demands of his prior position. When the FCE results indicate the worker cannot safely return to the previous job, it can be used to develop a return-to-work plan, as the basis of an offer of alternative employment or as the foundation for a work conditioning program. The FCE, along with a rating of permanent impairment, can also be used to determine the degree of disability so that a bureaucratic or judicial entity can assign, apportion or deny financial or medical disability benefits.
What should a worker expect when arriving for an FCE?
The duration of the FCE can range in length from two to eight hours with a typical length of approximately four hours for those performed in Virginia. Upon arriving at the facility, the worker will complete some background medical forms and pain and disability questionnaires while the evaluator is reviewing the medical records and job requirements. The FCE evaluator is typically a physical or occupational therapist who has received additional training in administering/interpreting FCEs, evaluating workplace demands, understanding worker’s compensation laws/regulations as well as structuring an objective test that will accurately determine the worker’s level of effort and reliability.
The evaluator will then bring the worker into a private area for an extensive interview to assist with understanding the course of care since the injury, determining the worker’s perceptions of his injury and constructing a plan for the physical portion of work-testing based on job requirements. Next, the evaluator will perform a physical examination that measures the worker’s strength, flexibility and sensation and screen for any conditions that may be safety risks to continuing with the physical portion of the FCE.
Once the interview and physical exam are complete, the actual work-related physical testing begins in a gym-like setting with specialized equipment. The physical activities tested vary based upon the worker’s job requirements, but typically include tasks such as walking, bending, lifting, carrying and low level and above the shoulder work. When all of the necessary physical tasks are completed, the FCE is concluded and the worker is given instructions on following up with his physician concerning the results. The evaluator spends considerable time synthesizing the data into a concise report which summarizes the worker’s physical abilities and limitations and offers conclusions as to his return-to-work viability and/or recommended rehabilitation therapies. ■
For more information contact:
Amanda Gallagher, MS, PT, CWCE
Sheltering Arms - Chester Center