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How Can Telehealth Help With Workers Compensation?

Posted by Michael Greiwe, MD | January 17, 2019 |
Michael Greiwe, MD

In January 2019, the State of New York announced an effort to study how virtual health could improve worker’s compensation by increasing access, improving compliance, and decreasing costs. The goal of Senate Bill 1042 was to take a closer look at how digital technology could improve outcomes in a state system that the New York Times said, “struggles to treat workers with due speed, protect employers from fraud or mute tensions in the workplace.”

Let’s look at how telehealth could potentially have a positive effect on the worker’s compensation system in New York and elsewhere.

Problems with Workers Compensation

Workers compensation is a unique subset of healthcare insurance designed to help injured workers get back to the job and protect the companies that employ them. Today, more than 140 million American workers are covered by the insurance, whose costs are paid for by employers.

In New York, the costs of running a worker compensation bureaucracy have spiraled past the $5.5 billion mark. It is the second largest system in the country, and most cases take more than nine months to resolve, on average. The New York Times says the system is “among the most expensive for business and the stingiest to workers.”

That’s why Senate Bill 1042 is being looked at favorably by the medical community and employers as having real potential to help this struggling bureaucracy leverage telehealth technology to improve how workers and employers are treated.

MHealth Intelligence reported on the legislation’s goals of improving upon a system that struggles with:

  • Geographic restrictions;
  • Provider shortages;
  • Inclement weather;
  • Restricted patient mobility;
  • And a lack of healthcare providers that speak the same language as the employed worker.

New York’s effort to reform workers compensation by improving access to care has already been recommended in a sense, in a 2014 report by Towers Watson who found that U.S. companies could save over $6 billion annually by using telehealth to treat injured workers on the job.

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URAC, the national healthcare standards organization, recommended in 2017 that telehealth has, “the potential to transform the workers’ compensation industry, providing injured employees with a convenient, personal and effective alternative to on-site medical care while reducing utilization of unnecessary services.”

How, exactly, can telehealth improve upon a healthcare bureaucracy that has been notoriously slow to adapt to technology changes? Could telehealth improve workers compensation in a win/win scenario for healthcare consumers and employers?

How Can Telehealth Transform Workers Compensation?

The URAC report suggested that telehealth can be customized in occupational health settings with very positive outcomes, including:

  • Reduced utilization;
  • Lowered costs;
  • Improved claims determinations;
  • Improved care experience for workers.

One benefit of telehealth is the immediacy of the technology; a workers comp triage nurse or mid-level could quickly be accessed via a smartphone right after the accident occurs. A visual assessment and consultation could determine if the patient should speak with a physician or travel to an ER. The consultation and analysis of the job site injury area could be recorded and saved later for workers compensation lawyers and insurance case managers.

This is a particularly cost-effective approach that could save millions each year in unnecessary ER visits. The technology could also help get employees back to work more quickly. A clinician could consult with the patient to determine whether their functions are returning to normal or if additional recovery time is needed. These visits could even occur at the job site in a private, HIPAA-compliant space. URAC also suggested that virtual physical therapy sessions could be an option with telehealth technology. Their report said the benefits of telehealth in workers compensation also include:

  • Improved patient triage that occurs via a medical professional and not the employer.
  • Increased speed of care delivery via these triage sessions that can immediately follow a workplace injury.
  • Decreased utilization of urgent care or emergency room visits, particularly in the middle of the night when an incident on second shift occurs.
  • Lowered costs and a reduction in the duration of the claim can occur when triage allows for a more accurate assessment of the injured worker.

State legislatures, governing bodies, and healthcare standards organizations are clearly getting on board with telehealth for workers compensation claims. But a recent study of professionals within the worker’s comp insurance field actually showed that they, too, believe telehealth holds the key to improving outcomes and cutting costs. Risk and Insurance magazine found that “digital health can offer a more convenient and cost-effective platform for companies looking to keep their workforce healthy.”

The study of more than 275 workers compensation professionals found that they believe telehealth can:

  • Connect injured employees to healthcare and rehabilitation treatment and services.
  • Speed up the recovery process for the injured worker.
  • Get the worker back on the job more quickly than more traditional approaches.

With the Insurance Journal predicting annual healthcare cost increases of at least six percent, having an alternative to an emergency room trip makes sense. When that alternative is telehealth, a technology with proven effectiveness, even the stodgiest industries are recognizing the potential value in these tools.

OrthoLive Provides Workers Compensation

OrthoLive offers employers the telehealth advantage for occupational health. Our end-to-end worker’s compensation program includes:

  • Attendance monitoring and scheduling.
  • An immediate on-site virtual clinical response to an on-the-job injury.
  • On-site virtual physical therapy.Wellness and injury prevention training, which could lower your worker’s compensation premiums.

Leveraging the OrthoLive platform for workers compensation gives you immediate 24/7 access to a coast-to-coast orthopedic triage and physical therapy networks in the country. The service is offered via a low-cost subscription and can be tailored to target specific geographies or nationwide. Our on-demand occupational health services have been proven to:

  • Improve the speed at which a job injury can be assessed.
  • Decrease the potential for job injury through virtual observation of the job site.
  • Reduce travel time for healthcare treatment.
  • Improve the efficiency of case management.
  • Improve employee and employer satisfaction with the worker’s compensation program.
  • Increase employee engagement in wellness and job safety.
  • Increase the accuracy of workers compensation documentation.

Talk with the team at OrthoLive to find out how your worker’s compensation program can use telehealth to change outcomes and cut costs.

Topics: "telehealth", "telemedicine", workers compensation, occupational health, telehealth cost

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