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Professional assessments

While research indicates that clear guidance from a physician is a very important part of helping with guiding return to work, assessment in the physician’s office may have limitations. Assessments may not capture the physical, cognitive or psychological impacts of cancer and its treatment or their potential impact on work functioning. Determining a survivor’s work readiness, limitations and the job accommodations they may need may require referral to a specialist for a more detailed work focused assessment.

Functional or physical capacity evaluation

Health professionals use functional capacity evaluations (also called physical capacity evaluations) to assess physical work ability in a systematic and objective way. These assessments are often done by occupational therapists, physiotherapists or kinesiologists. Functional capacity can be evaluated in simulated work environments or at the patient’s workplace, using specialized equipment such as weights and treadmills.

Functional capacity evaluations help professionals:

  • develop and modify a rehabilitation program
  • measure functional capacity before and after treatment
  • evaluate whether the employee can do tasks in their job, and whether or when they can return to work
  • generate ideas on what needs to be in place (adaptive aids and accommodations) at the workplace so that an employee can work safely and productively

Neuropsychological assessment

Neuropsychological assessment can identify any cognitive difficulties that might affect aan individual’s ability to do a job. Neuropsychologists use a series of tests to measure how a person is feeling and how well they do concurrent cognitive and perceptual tasks. These tests are far more detailed than a basic neurological assessment and can better pinpoint subtle cognitive problems. For example, a neuropsychological assessment can help determine whether attention and concentration difficulties impede one’s ability to drive. They can also measure the effect of a brain tumour or cancer treatment on the brain. Using these tests, a neuropsychologist can identify cognitive strengths and weaknesses, recommend accommodations so that an employee with cognitive problems can work safely and productively or guide survivors who are retraining or trying to learn a new job.

Neuropsychological assessment may be available through your local cancer centre, rehabilitation centre or general hospital. In these locations, the cost may be covered by government health insurance. Some employment benefit plans (short- and long-term disability insurance or extended healthcare) will pay for neuropsychological assessments done outside of hospitals, or they can be obtained privately. Government employment programs may provide neuropsychological assessments as well. 1

Ergonomic assessment

In an ergonomic assessment, an occupational therapist or kinesiologist evaluates how an employee interacts with work environments, such as workstations, assembly lines, counters or desks. Using the assessment results, the therapist recommends technical and/or adaptive aids and worksite changes that will reduce injury risk and allow the employee to work more safely and productively. Ergonomic assessment can be part of a functional capacity evaluation.

Ergonomic assessment typically involves:

  • an interview with the employee
  • reviewing their health history (medical reports and employee’s report of their own health)
  • a worksite visit to observe the employee using various tools and equipment
  • recommendations for workstation accommodations