According to the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, a functional capacity evaluation (FCE) measures an individual's physical abilities via a set of activities in a structured setting and provides objective data about the relationship between an impairment and maximal ability to perform work activities. A key distinction between FCEs and self-reported activities of daily living is that the former involve direct observation by professional evaluators. Numerous devices can quantify the physical function of a specific part of the musculoskeletal system but do not address the performance of whole body tasks in the workplace, and these devices have not been shown to predict accurately the ability to perform all but the simplest job tasks. Information about reliability has been proposed as a way to identify magnification and malingering, but variability due to pain and poor comprehension of instructions may cause variations in assessments. Structured work capacity evaluations involve a set of activities but likely underestimate the individual's ability to do jobs that involve complex or varying activities. Job simulations involve direct observation of an individual performing actual job tasks, require a skilled and experienced evaluator, and raise questions about expense, time, objectivity and validity of results, and interpretation of results in terms of the ability to perform specific jobs. To understand the barriers to return to work, examiners must supplement FCEs with information regarding workplace environment, accommodations, and demotivators.

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