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9.6 Functional Capacity Evaluations

A functional capacity evaluation (FCE) may be useful where a client's treating Doctor is unable to provide clear and specific return to work medical guidelines. An FCE may also be indicated where a client reports difficulties with work tasks that are inconsistent with the current return to work medical guidance.

An FCE can assess a person's physical capabilities for work, performing specific tasks or for their overall strength and activity capacity. An FCE determines functional limitations based on a physical examination, and provides objective evaluation of performance and reporting.

An FCE is the evaluation of an injured person's functional and physical abilities as they relate to work performance or general functioning. However, an FCE can maximise the use of objective measurements of an injured person's ability to perform the physical demands of specified work tasks in the vocational rehabilitation setting.

In this setting it is useful for:

  • determining a person's physical ability to perform work;
  • determining the person's potential ability to perform work after the return to work program is completed;
  • guiding and adjusting the return to work program; and
  • documenting changes after a return to work program has been implemented.

One of the major decisions that must be made following an injury is deciding when a person is physically ready to return to work. The FCE can be tailored to consider the specific tasks that are essential to the job in question and to help the rehabilitation service provider and an employer develop a specific return to work program for the injured person in consultation with that person, the Rehabilitation Coordinator and approved and cleared by the person's treating doctor. An FCE can also be used to develop a graduated program of safe, appropriate and thorough tasks to guide a successful work-hardening process as part of a return to work program.

Clearance to undertake an FCE must be obtained from the client's treating doctor before a rehabilitation service provider can do the FCE. The referral must clearly explain the specific purpose of the evaluation request. Details of the medical conditions impacting on a person's ability to work and any other restrictions should also be included. FCE reports should contain details about the person's capacity for work, a summary of the assessment process and findings, and clear recommendations for ongoing management to achieve agreed goals.

Functional education, as a result of a functional evaluation is the process of educating a person with an injury or disability, or a person who is at risk of an injury, on strategies to maintain good physical and mental health at home and or in the workplace. It helps a person to take responsibility for maximising function, avoiding injury or further aggravation.