Collaboration between CCMs and CDMSs - A Natural Alliance

With unique skills and expertise, Board-Certified Managers and Certified Disability Management Specialists help clients streamline their return to work and access to care, mitigating distress and serving as client advocates to ensure clients heal and return to daily life. Specialties Case Management Article

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Collaboration between CCMs and CDMSs - A Natural Alliance

Sudden illness and injury can be extraordinarily stressful, sparking worries about recovery time, treatment costs, and lost time at work. The complexity of the health care system and leave-of-absence programs can compound these concerns to worsen anxiety.

That's where Board-Certified Case Managers (CCM) and Certified Disability Management Specialists (CDMS) come in. With unique skills and expertise, they help clients streamline their return to work and access to care, mitigating distress and serving as client advocates to ensure clients heal and return to daily life.

The roles of a CCM and CDMS are distinct and complementary. These professionals share a common goal in supporting clients to facilitate optimal wellness and function. For instance, a CDMS may interview a client while a CCM coordinates care, or a CCM may provide a CDMS with medical information to support leave-of-absence and transitional work planning. Understanding the unique scope of knowledge and experience of our CCM and CDMS colleagues lays the foundation for meaningful collaborations and exceptional person-centered care management.

Case Study: A CCM and CDMS Collaborated to Help a Client with Cancer

Let's consider "Ray", whose cancer diagnosis led to months of chemotherapy that prevented him from working. An oncology CCM informed him and his wife of state leave and reimbursement programs that could help cover his wife's lost work time spent driving him to sessions. The CCM then worked with a workplace CDMS and helped Ray and his wife apply to the programs. After he received his first round of chemo, the CCM learned through an interview that Ray had nausea and recommended a dietitian referral.

After a few weeks of treatment, the CDMS reached out to assess his future readiness for transitional work before sharing his job description with his CCM. The CCM and Ray's health care provider outlined return-to-work restrictions, which the CDMS shared back with the employer. Ray's employer agreed to the temporary accommodations until he returned to regular work.

Ray's case is one of many scenarios in which CCM and CDMS practitioners collaborate to drive recovery. Together, they provide integrated, holistic case management to fulfill client needs. 

If you're not immersed in this work, the differences between a CCM and CDMS might seem hazy. It's no wonder, as they both help clients recover and return to productivity. However, while a CCM and CDMS may share a vital end goal, their roles are distinct.

CCM and CDMS Defined: Key Distinctions 

Role Optimizing health care delivery and outcomes so clients can recover. Minimizing economic impact of lost time at work and prioritizing clients' return to productivity.
Responsibilities High-quality care coordination and helping clients navigate the health care system. May also work in workers' compensation and chronic care management. Connecting clients with employer resources and coordinating with employers. Informing clients based on their expertise in leave and absence programs, income replacement, and return to transitional work.
Works with Health care providers, health insurers, third-party administrators, and CDMS. Leave and disability insurers, third-party administrators, employers, vocational rehabilitation programs, and CCM.

The Growing Need for Case Managers and Disability Management Specialists

The need for professional case managers is rising as the percentage of the population with chronic conditions grows, spurring the need for care coordination. 52% of adults in the U.S. have at least one chronic condition and 27% have multiple, according to the CDC.1 

Healthcare staffing issues pose an additional need. Many essential workers are over age 50 and approaching retirement age2, healthcare worker burnout spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, and nursing program enrollment is declining. Professional case managers help streamline care to reduce stressors and wear many hats to ensure clients' needs are always met.

The role of the disability management specialist has also grown with the expansion of employer benefits and complex programs varying by employer. Many of those facing injury or illness are anxious to get back to work. Disability management specialists help determine how they can work transitionally within employers' temporary work restrictions.

How CCM and CDMS Certification Drive Lifelong Learning 

These front-facing professionals keep up-to-date by getting certified and maintaining their certifications, leading to lifelong learning. Some practitioners carry both the CCM and CDMS credentials. Many earn additional certifications to enhance their learning, strengthen their expertise and advance in their careers. 

The Commission for Case Manager Certification recently hosted a webinar exploring how a CCM and a CDMS each function uniquely—and, sometimes, collaboratively—to drive recuperation.

If you are interested in becoming a CCM and/or CDMS or renewing your certification, the Commission for Case Manager Certification exam offers the oldest and most recognized certification program with our CCM® credential and oversees the process of disability management specialist certification with our CDMS® credential.

Written by Teresa M. Treiger, RN, MA, CCM, FABQAURP; 2022.2023 CCMC Chair for CCMC


1 Boersma P, Black LI, Ward BW. Prevalence of Multiple Chronic Conditions Among US Adults, 2018. Prev Chronic Dis 2020;17:200130. DOI:

2 Schramm J. Carlos F. The U.S. Essential Workforce Ages 50 and Older: A Snapshot. Washington, DC: AARP Public Policy Institute. October 2020.

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