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How Can Telemedicine Help with Workplace MSK Injuries?

Posted by James Baker, Chief Medical Officer | February 16, 2019 |
James Baker, Chief Medical Officer

Telehealth technology provides a way to diagnose, treat, and monitor patients in a less invasive and more cost-effective manner than the traditional on-site office visit. The technology, which allows for a “virtual house call,” can bring together doctors and patients quickly via the use of a digital device. This is particularly important when the injury occurs on a job site.

Each year, there are more than three million non-fatal job site injuries that occur in the United States. The most common type of on-the-job injury today is the musculoskeletal (MSK) injury. The statistics tell us that these injuries account for nearly 30% of all workers’ compensation costs. Employers spend an estimated $20 billion each year on direct costs for these disorders, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Telemedicine offers us a way to help cut costs by triaging patient injuries instead of sending every injured worker to the emergency room as the standard response to a workplace injury. Here is how employer risk and expense related to MSK injuries can be mitigated through the use of telehealth tools.

Challenges of Workers Compensation

Workers compensation insurance covers more than 140 million U.S. workers, providing laborers with coverage for on-the-job accidents. But the costs of workers compensation insurance is staggering; American companies spend about $95 billion each year to cover their employees and pay the costs of workers compensation claims.

These state-based programs mark one of the oldest types of social insurance in the United States, providing necessary income and medical support to workers injured in the course of their daily duties. Each state regulates its own program, but today; the system is struggling to maintain its effectiveness while achieving cost efficiencies. The American Public Health Association says,Reforms are needed to ensure that workers with occupational injuries and illnesses can access the medical and wage replacement benefits they need until they can go back to work.”

Some common problems with workers compensation claims include:

  • The injury is not reported immediately.
  • Forms are not completed properly.
  • The medical information and accident report are not completed properly.

Part of the problem is that injuries can occur in remote locations or during a night shift when the only help available is through first responders or a costly ER visit. These issues have caused the system to bloat healthcare costs for employers while stymieing workers from receiving the benefits they deserve.

Prevalence of MSK Injuries on the Job

“Better, faster and more accurate diagnoses are vital to helping injured workers health and recover.”
Property Casualty 360

MSK on-the-job injuries are the most common type of workers compensation claims. They are the single-largest category of workplace injury in the United States today. From ligament or muscle sprain, fractures, or even long-term repetitive motion disorders like carpal tunnel, MSKs present a real problem for employers and their workers.

Getting these injured workers back on the job as quickly as possible is contingent upon their receiving an accurate diagnosis and expert treatment as quickly as possible. However, one study pointed out that these diagnoses are initially often wrong, stating, “Without adequate resources to handle undifferentiated diagnoses, a potential unintended consequence is misdiagnoses resulting in treatment delays and complications leading to more costly treatments.”

Part of the problem is that orthopedic care may not be available to the patient immediately at a remote job site. Too, workers may delay seeking treatment and try to work through a painful condition to avoid the hassle of paperwork and time traveling to and from the doctor.

Employers are now seeking the aid of telehealth technologies as a way to improve diagnosis and provide immediate care on the job site for the worker plagued with an MSK injury.

How Telemedicine Can Help with MSK Workplace Injuries

Providing an immediate diagnosis while cutting costs associated with MSK workplace injuries is just two of the benefits of using telehealth as part of a corporate workers compensation response strategy. Bringing the clinician to the job site directly after an injury occurs allows a speedy and appropriate diagnosis, a treatment plan, and an assessment of the job site situation that caused the worker injury.

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Telemedicine can eliminate unnecessary and costly trips to the ER, cutting costs, improving employee satisfaction and worker productivity. Too, it’s growing more difficult to find healthcare practices that accept workers compensation cases because of the complicated nature of responding to constantly shifting administrative requirements in these cases. Risk & Insurance says,This impacts workers’ comp firsthand as employers attempt to find treating physicians who will work with their needs. Telemedicine acts as a solution.”

While catastrophic cases must always require a hands-on approach, the vast majority of MSK workplace injuries would benefit from an immediate response from a physician or midlevel via a video chat on a smartphone. Telehealth is a particularly important tool for workers in rural communities or remote locations where the closest healthcare facility is miles distant. Transportation can often complicate a bad situation, causing lost productivity and higher costs for the employer and employee.

But telehealth cuts the need for travel, instead, bringing the clinician direct to the job site. Checkups and even physical therapy can happen by using video chat on a tablet or smartphone. This is particularly beneficial for worker productivity; most follow-up appointments happen during normal office hours, which usually fall during an employer’s peak operating hours. Taking time off from work to attend a follow-up appointment may be more of a hassle than the employee wants to endure, which increases the risk that they will skip it entirely. Missed appointments, however, can drag out claims, leaving a case open longer than it needs to be.

Telemedicine allows the worker to check-in without the added costs of travel. These can be “stay-at-work” visits, which improve employee productivity while keeping the worker’s compensation claim on track.

OrthoLive’s End-to-End Telehealth Network for Workers Compensation

For employers seeking improved efficiencies in their on-site workers’ compensation program, OrthoLive has developed an on-call orthopedic telehealth response for MSK and other injuries. We offer fast on-site assessments, scheduling, and attendance monitoring, physical therapy, and wellness training that comes to your job site.

We offer one of the largest orthopedic triage networks in the country to provide telehealth for workers compensation cases. It’s an immediate response that offers improved efficiencies for your business.

Contact our team to find out more.

Topics: "telehealth", "telemedicine", workers compensation, musculoskeletal, workplace injury

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