Functional capacity evaluations are often used to determine an injured person’s ability to work. In a workers’ compensation case, these tests are often ordered by a doctor when an injured worker has reached maximum medical improvement.
Maximum medical improvement basically means that the doctor thinks that you are as good as you are going to get. Doctors often order functional capacity evaluation at that point to determine whether you still need work restrictions and what those work restrictions should be.
Description of a functional capacity evaluation
Physical therapists and occupational therapists often perform functional capacity evaluations or an occupational therapist. Sometimes, doctors perform them as well.
The functional capacity evaluation test will involve a number of different tasks. You will have to lift. You will have to carry. You will have to sit, stand, and walk. You will often have to climb stairs or ladders. Basically, the test evaluates your performance of any physical task that you might perform in a work environment.
Most functional capacity evaluations last between two and four hours. When the test is done, the therapist or other person administering the test will compile the results and prepare a report. This report will usually focus on two issues.
Functional capacity demonstrated in the evaluation
All of the different tasks that you perform during the evaluation are measured. The evaluator generally uses these measurements to determine what jobs you could perform. This is usually done by looking at what physical demand level you could meet on a full time basis (working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week).
The evaluator uses your performance during the test to reach this conclusion. Your treating physician will often use these results to determine whether you could do your regular job or light duty work.
In addition to determining what you can actually physically do, the functional capacity evaluation also tries to determine whether you are really trying as hard as you can. This is called validity testing.
Suppose the evaluator asks you to pick up a 20 pound weight. If you try to lift it and say that you cannot, the evaluator will not just accept that. The evaluation has tests built into it to make sure you are giving your “full effort”.
If these tests show that you are not giving full effort, the testing will come back as invalid or unreliable. Sometimes, an invalid result may lead your authorized treating physician to conclude that you are putting on or exaggerating your pain.
Reliability of functional capacity evaluation results
There is a big question about whether functional capacity evaluations produce reliable and accurate test results. It is important to understand that there are many types of functional capacity evaluations. In our experience, some of these types are much better than others.
Your authorized treating physician will usually rely on the functional capacity evaluation to determine what work you can do. Many times, the insurance company will try to force you to go to the place that they want the functional capacity evaluation performed. This place may not perform a good test. The results may not be accurate.
It is very important to get a fair and accurate test. Both the doctor and a workers’ compensation judge may rely on the results of the test.