A functional capacity evaluation (FCE) evaluates an individual's capacity to perform work activities related to his or her participation in employment. The FCE process compares the individual's health status, and body functions and structures to the demands of the job and the work environment. In essence, a FCE's primary purpose is to evaluate a person's ability to participate in work, although other instrumental activities of daily living that support work performance may also be evaluated.
A well-designed FCE should consist of a battery of standardized assessments that offers results in performance-based measures and demonstrates predictive value about the individual's return to work. Traditionally, FCEs measured an individual's ability to perform the physical demands of a job, but over the last decade many FCE batteries have begun to include evaluation of cognitive demands if such testing is warranted. The FCE must be administered with care for the client's safety and well-being.
Who Can Benefit From an FCE?
Someone who has been injured on the job to determine his or her ability to return to the job or alternate work. Someone applying for Social Security Disability benefits. Someone seeking to return to work or volunteer activities after an injury or illness. Someone injured in a catastrophic accident for whom an FCE can determine performance skills and abilities related to resuming former employment or a new job. Someone seeking vocational rehabilitation services. Students receiving transitional services from school to the work setting to determine their skills and the extent of support required to perform in a job.
Physical Therapy's Role In FCEs
The ability to analyze an activity in detail to determine the necessary components to perform the task competently is a unique core skill of physical therapists, based on their education and training. FCEs typically require the evaluator to determine the worker's capability to perform various work-related tasks and whether there is a match between these abilities and the essential job performance components.
Although individuals from other disciplines can be involved in FCEs, the physical therapy practitioner brings unique knowledge and skills related to the complex and dynamic interactions between the person, the environment, and the occupation.
The FCE may be used to determine
Goals for rehabilitation or readiness for discharge planning. Ability to safely return to work status (including full duty, modified duty, or transitional duty) Work ability status for vocational rehabilitation. Workers' compensation case settlement. Disability status. Ability to meet job demands as part of a hiring process (pre-work/post-offer employment testing). Ability to meet the demands of other activities (i.e., being a student, volunteering).
Next month's article will discuss the components and other important information about the FCE.