A functional capacity evaluation (FCE) test is a broad assessment of an individual’s ability to perform work-related movements and/or tasks. It measures both capability and tolerance, including:
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) says a well-designed functional capacity evaluation includes a series of standardized assessments. Each assessment uses performance-based metrics to predict a person’s ability to perform specific demands. The exact components vary according to the nature of the person’s work. In recent years, some types of FCE tests have been expanded to measure cognitive ability.
There is no standard FCE test that is always used. That’s because each injured worker and their diagnosis are different. Dr. Joseph P. Chen studied FCE testing in chronic pain patients. It would be ideal, he says, if all tests could be measured against an established “gold standard.” But he admits much of medicine cannot be measured as such. The function of an individual is definitely not something that has a universal ‘gold standard.’”
The Five Pillars
For an FCE test, the evaluator chooses which testing methods to use. Nonetheless, to have value every test must meet five standards, or “pillars:”
How is it used?
Dr. Chen cites Matheson as a pioneer in functional capacity evaluation. Since Matheson’s original work in 1984, as many as 10 variations of FCE tests have been introduced. They all rely on scientifically-accepted evaluation methods and tools. Matheson’s FCE test uses the five pillars to answer three referral questions. The goal is to determine the individual’s ability to return to work safely.
Matheson’sthree questions are:
Test results will show if any gaps exist between job requirements and the person’s capabilities. If so, the individual:
Physical therapists who specialize in treating injured workers are often called upon to conduct functional capability evaluations. They understand the correlation between physical demands testing and actual on-the-job performance. And they use a holistic approach that includes the worker, the job requirements and the actual working environment.
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