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Telemedicine and Occupational Health

Posted by James Baker, Chief Medical Officer | August 13, 2018 |
James Baker, Chief Medical Officer

There seems to be a lot of buzz in the marketplace right now about occupational health and telemedicine.

It makes sense that telemedicine, which has been used for decades to improve access to care while cutting costs, would finally be used by employers for their injured workers. Telemedicine holds real potential for reducing employee’s time away from work while increasing the speed in which an injury can be evaluated.

This article will look closely at the metrics tied to telemedicine in the occupational health space and why industry buzz has suddenly focused on the positive impact of telehealth applications in the field of occupational medicine.

Employers + Healthcare + Telehealth

“A new paradigm for occupational health has emerged that extends the classical focus on what might be termed “health risk management”—that is, the focus on workplace hazards and risk to health—to include the medical aspects of sickness absence and rehabilitation, the support and management of chronic noncommunicable diseases, and workplace health promotion.”

Science Direct

These days, employers are worried about the costs tied to managing employee healthcare benefits. Chronic diseases, an aging workforce, and on-the-job injuries are all areas where employers and healthcare intersect in a way that would keep any HR manager up at night. Willis Towers Watson says employers in the U.S. predict their healthcare costs to rise by 5.5% this year, up from a 4.6% increase in 2017. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA), employers pay nearly $1 billion per week for direct and indirect costs for workplace illness and injury.

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In this volatile and cost-laden environment, employers are seeking new ways to manage employee health while improving productivity. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) suggests that employers are taking a number of steps by “encouraging patients to use preferred providers that emphasize better outcomes and cost savings in high-priority clinical conditions, such as diabetes, musculoskeletal health and mental health.” They point out that employers are also seeking new ways to enhance the employee experience while also balancing costs.

Employees injured on the job are one thing, but having workers struggling with health issues negatively impacts their attitude, creating a ripple effect across the organization.

It’s the perfect storm, really, for telemedicine to expand in the occmed space. Willis Towers Watson suggests that telehealth applications are already impacting workplace medicine:

  • 78% of employers offer some form of telemedicine office visit.
  • Another 16% are expected to offer this option by 2019.
  • 19% of employers recommend the use of mobile apps for employees to manage chronic conditions.
  • Another 26% of employers plan on supporting these types of wellness applications by 2019.

When an employee is injured on the job, employers are increasingly turning to telemedicine to improve treatment outcomes. This is actually not a new phenomenon; as far back as 2006, the Mayo Clinic was reporting positive outcomes while using the technology to get employees back to work more quickly.

Consumer Health Connections suggests that telehealth can be used for “managing work injuries, from the moment of accident through recovery and return to work.”

Here are some ways that telemedicine could be applied in a workplace setting:

  • For the warehouse worker experiencing lower back pain, a phone app could record the incident with the worker’s compensation payer while requesting a consultation with a nurse or physician. The phone app could connect the doctor and patient in real-time and the video interaction could be recorded and stored.
  • For the pipeline worker experiencing a sprained wrist, a smartphone app could connect him or her with a doctor that assesses the situation while recommending x-rays at the nearest healthcare facility.
  • For a truck driver on the road, a telemedicine application could help proactively monitor diabetes insulin levels and suggest proactive strategies for better maintaining employee health.

Employers seeking to create an employee wellness program can use telemedicine to educate, motivate and provide treatment in ways that will save the employer cash while increasing worker compliance.

Virtually managing worker injury isn’t appropriate in some instances, of course. However, telehealth is ideal for most of the minor injuries most often experienced on the job. It can also bring together clinical teams for better collaboration around patient treatment.

Business Case for OccMed Telemedicine Visits

“In workers comp, claims payers are in the driver’s seat for putting the technology to use.”
Consumer Health Connections

Telehealth applications in occupational health provide expert support for on-site safety and health personnel. The occmed provider can offer employers advice on OSHA or define early intervention techniques that improve workplace safety. Too, the occmed team can assess the employee’s ability to return to work remotely, speeding up a potentially unwieldy process by viewing the work environment. Telemedicine can also benefit remote workers in isolated areas and can be used as a teaching tool for on-site personnel.

Some of the other benefits of telemedicine in workplace medicine include:

  • Immediate injury reporting and easier documentation.
  • Improved accuracy of injury reporting.
  • Improved return to work outcomes.
  • The convenience of mobile access.
  • More aggressive case management.
  • Improved communication between physical therapists, physicians, and employers.
  • Faster and lower cost medical treatment.
  • Cuts traveling, waiting, and time off work expenses.
  • Improves patient experience.
  • Shorter duration of claims.
  • Improved compliance.
  • Reduces treatment time and expenses.
  • Access improves for second and third-shift employees.

It’s crucial to respond immediately to a work injury. Telemedicine offers clinicians a way to immediately provide workers with the treatment they need even while they are on-the-job.

Telemedicine can be applied to four different scenarios in the workplace:

  • Triaging care as part of the initial injury incident.
  • It can be used as part of ongoing treatment during restrictions.
  • It can be used to assess the ability to return-to-work.
  • As a communications platform to link med clinics, HR managers, claims adjusters – and the patient.

OrthoLive is expanding our telemedicine application into the occupational medicine field. We believe telehealth is the perfect technology to improve access to care and patient outcomes while helping employers cut costs.

If you are an employer seeking ways to improve on-the-job safety or cut healthcare costs, contact the OrthoLive team for a no-obligation demonstration of our telemedicine application.

Topics: workers compensation, occupational health, occmed

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