Telemedicine has become ubiquitous in personal health and is beginning to become more prevalent in the workers’ compensation industry, providing injured workers with a much-needed alternative to traditional clinic and hospital-based medical care. Although telemedicine adoption has been slower in the workers’ compensation arena, it has undeniable value, and this value has never been more visible than during the coronavirus pandemic.
This delivery of healthcare and related services through telecommunication technologies—Telemedicine—provides a unique synthesis of technology, data, and medicine which is transforming the workers’ compensation industry by allowing for:
- Immediate triage, assessment, and diagnosis of a workplace injury or illness.
- Efficient and personalized treatment.
- Time savings by eliminating trips to the emergency room, urgent care, clinic, or doctor’s office.
- Cost savings as most Telemedicine visits are less costly than a visit to the emergency room, urgent care, clinic, or doctor’s office.
- Improved recovery outcomes for injured employees.1,9
- Directing cases that need follow up to the right level of care.
- Close integration with employers’ risk and comp stakeholders, including their claims administration and carriers.
Some interesting statistics
Seventy-six percent of U.S. hospitals connect with patients and consulting practitioners via video and other technology.1
Sixty-five percent of healthcare leaders say they are shifting care towards virtual care offerings and eighty-nine percent of healthcare leaders are investing in telehealth.2
Thirty-five percent of the public would replace their primary care physician with qualified on-demand physicians via telehealth.8 Half of millennials and Gen Zers would replace their primary care physician with telehealth.8
Every state in the U.S. offers coverage for telemedicine through Medicaid or private insurance providers.1
The use of telehealth in workers’ compensation has expanded dramatically. Before 2020, telemedicine for workers’ compensation cases was allowed in less than half of all states, but now an additional 25 states either added a telemedicine option or expanded their usage for worker’s injuries.1,3,7,9
Of 550 workers’ comp professionals surveyed, 45 percent of respondents see promise in telemedicine when it comes to cutting costs and impacting the industry.11
The U.S. telemedicine market grew at an annual rate of six percent per year and reached a nearly $7 billion value before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and has grown exponentially since then. 11
Benefits of Telemedicine in Workers’ Comp
Telemedicine saves time, inconvenience, and money for patients, employers, and insurers. Telemedicine increases access to prompt, high-quality healthcare services, has been shown to provide timely return to work, better outcomes for injured workers and their employers, and has proven to be an effective and convenient way for patients to receive medical care.
A best practice in telemedicine for injury response, begins with, on-demand, 24/7 nurse triage. Injured employees are rapidly evaluated by nurses using triage guidelines to identify the appropriate level of care for an injured employee, which can include first aid and self-care, care via Telemedicine, in person care in a clinic, urgent care, or for significant injuries and illnesses the emergency room.
Smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers are commonplace and allow easy and access to many types of information and can rapidly connect to a highly skilled physician who can provide evaluation and care for injuries or illness.
When an employee unexpectedly becomes ill or injured while at work, getting to and from a clinic, emergency department, or urgent care has historically been a challenging and time-consuming expedition. But telemedicine can eliminate this inconvenience in numerous situations:
- A manufacturing employee who injures himself or herself while working an overnight shift and the only option for care is costly and time-consuming visit to the emergency department.
- A truck driver who sustains an injury while on the road and doesn’t know where to get care or if his injury even needs care in a clinic, urgent care, or emergency room.
- An electrician working on the installation of a wind farm hundreds of miles from the nearest town who has an injury or begins to feel sick.
All these scenarios pose significant challenges when trying to get the injured worker to a place where they can get care; telemedicine brings the care to them. Telemedicine is available nearly anywhere and at any time and provides immediate assessment, advice, and care to the injured or ill worker. Telemedicine breaks down geographical barriers and can be used in both rural and urban settings with the injured employee receiving treatment at the workplace, allowing for a near-immediate return to work if appropriate.
The advantages of telemedicine are not limited to access to care but also include efficiency. Even if there’s a clinic down the street, the injured employee will have to get a ride to the clinic, wait for the doctor, wait for their discharge information, and then get a ride back to the workplace. Telemedicine reduces the time it takes for this whole process as the injured worker can be evaluated and treated without ever leaving the workplace and without any drive or wait times.
Telemedicine also provides cost savings for employers. Although the data on this is still emerging, employers and insurers can oftentimes save 50 percent or more on their workers’ comp costs7 which translates into overall savings. When injuries are directed to the right level of care and care is started promptly, case duration and engagement of the employees in their return to work is improved, reducing overall cost and facilitating faster claims closings.
Currently, telemedicine adoption in workers’ comp is still lower than in general health but it is gaining significant traction and will likely become a prominent medical care delivery mechanism particularly for low severity claims. Within a few years telemedicine will become the standard within the workers’ compensation industry as it provides faster access to care while eliminating geography as a factor in delivering care to an injured employee.
Telemedicine should be another tool in every employer’s and claims adjuster’s toolbox, which can help to contain costs and improve outcomes in workers compensation.
Limitations of Telemedicine in Workers’ Comp
Despite the benefits of telemedicine, there are some limitations that should be considered, and it is important to strike a balance between telemedicine and in-person care to ensure the best treatment and outcome for every injured worker.
Of course, not every injury and illness can be successfully treated via telemedicine and in some circumstances, there are no replacement for in-person care—stitches cannot be placed through a phone or video visit, nor can a splint or cast. Most common workplace injuries and illnesses are well-suited to remote telemedicine evaluation and treatment. Telemedicine can alleviate obstacles to care while providing exceptional clinical care and upholding evidence-based standards.
Not all physicians are experienced in the specialty of workers’ compensation, so selecting physicians with the right experience is as important in telemedicine as it is in traditional delivery models.
As access to and comfort with technology is increasing, some patients may still struggle with telemedicine technology and can have difficulty accessing a telemedicine application or special patient portal. Others may struggle to get their computer, smartphone, or tablet to operate correctly for a telemedicine visit, such as turning on the camera or microphone. Poor internet and Wi-Fi connections can also make connection difficult and can lead to confusion or miscommunication between the injured worker and physician.
Language and cultural barriers, age and societal attitudes, privacy and employee trust issues, cybersecurity concerns, and regulatory and reimbursement issues all also can pose challenges when implementing a telemedicine program and gaining adoption among employees, employers, and insurers. Despite this, experience has shown that when people try telemedicine, they actually are very pleasantly surprised and want to continue to use telemedicine for their care.
Workers’ comp regulations around reimbursement, causation, indemnity, and work clearance are very different from general health, and regulations and fees scheduled vary between states. This adds complexity and cost to delivering telemedicine in workers’ compensation.
Other uses of Telemedicine
Telemedicine has significant value in addition to initial injury evaluations. It provides an effective platform for follow-up appointments, post-operative visits, second surgical opinions, physical therapy, some ergonomic assessments, and mental health care, just to name a few. New and innovative uses for telemedicine are being developed daily.
Telemedicine-based physical therapy’s utility and effectiveness have been analyzed in recent studies8, and clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction associated with telemedicine-based physical therapy have been shown to be equal to that of traditional in-person therapy and have shown success both in live in-person sessions and asynchronous video-based models.
Employees’ mental health needs have grown during coronavirus and the growth of telemedicine mental health has continued to expand. This is a natural transition from in-clinic mental health care and allows employees to complete mental health sessions in the comfort of their own homes and at times that are convenient, reducing the need for lost time during the workday. Whether or not the stressors are work-related, many employers are recognizing the productivity and retention and overall health benefits of addressing employees’ mental health needs.
Medcor can help you with your Telemedicine needs
The primary focus of Medcor’s TeleHealth is to get injured employees to the right level of care as soon as possible. Medcor’s patented solutions provide unparalleled post-injury decision support, injury care, and proven results that improve health outcomes for injured employees while ensuring the employers’ interests are served as well.
In 2018, Medcor launched a nationwide telemedicine service that fully integrates with Medcor’s triage service. Medcor’s patented triage methods, together with its proprietary clinical algorithms, identify when an injured employee’s condition will benefit from reassurance and first aid instructions. Medcor’s system also identifies when additional care is required; when that care falls within the scope of telemedicine, injured employees can immediately connect to a physician.
One of Medcor TeleHealth’s key differentiators is that it starts with technology that is ubiquitous – the telephone. Everyone understands how to use a phone, and they almost always work, so that is where we start. From that simple phone call the injured employee is evaluated by our Triage nurses and when a further evaluation via Telemedicine is needed the patient simply remains on the line and the call seamlessly transitions to our Patient Care Navigators (PCNs).
Medcor’s PCNs assist each patient through every step of the telemedicine visit. PCNs connect the patient to the Telemedicine physician who also joins this phone call. When video or photos are needed, a connection is made with a single click of a link which transitions the patient, PCN, and Telemedicine physician to the video connection. This system eliminates the need for complicated application downloads and registration. During the physician evaluation, the PCN documents real-time to capture the physician’s recommendations and restrictions.
At the conclusion of the visit, the PCN helps patients with any questions they may have, assists them with directions to the client’s designated pharmacy or clinic if prescriptions or further referrals were provided, and they complete work status documentation which is immediately available to the injured employee and client. The PCNs make the patient experience positive and less stressful —qualities that help to ease an injured employee’s anxieties and help to drive adoption. The injured employee is never left alone and is guided through the entire simple process.
Medcor’s Telemedicine provides 24/7/365 access to telemedicine physicians within minutes nationwide. The telemedicine physicians Medcor partners with are all board-certified in emergency medicine and have extensive occupational health experience so they can not only address the injured employee’s acute injuries and illnesses but do so with occupational health guidelines in mind. Medcor’s Telemedicine physicians diagnose conditions, order prescriptions and treatments, make work restrictions, and give return-to-work clearances.
Costly emergency room visits, and unnecessary clinic visits are avoided, while needed medical treatments are obtained sooner and without the inconvenience of traveling to a brick and mortar location. The results are reductions in claims, medical costs, lost time from work, and litigation all while improving employee satisfaction.
1 AmTrust Financial, “Telehealth and Worker’s Compensation: Benefits and Recovery Outcomes”, https://amtrustfinancial.com/blog/small-business/telehealth-and-workers-comp
2 Becker’s Hospital Review, “16 key takeaways from 6 recent telehealth reports”, https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/telehealth/16-key-takeaways-from-6-recent-telehealth-reports.html
3 Business Insurance, “Telehealth use among most common cost-containment strategies”, https://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20210330/NEWS08/912340809/Telehealth-use-among-most-common-cost-containment-strategies-COVID-19-coronavirus
4 Caitlin Morgan, “The Benefits of Telemedicine in Workers’ Compensation”, https://www.caitlin-morgan.com/benefits-telemedicine-workers-compensation/
5 Concentra, “Telemedicine for Workers Compensation”, https://www.concentra.com/resourcecenter/webinars/telemedicine-for-workers-compensation
6 InsideRM, “How to Use Telemedicine for Worker’s Compensation”, https://www.tasbrmf.org/learning-news/insiderm/home/coverage/workers-compensation/how-to-use-telemedicine-for-workers-compensation.aspx
7 Insurance Journal, “Telemedicine Takes Workers Comp Into the Future”, https://www.insurancejournal.com/magazines/mag-coverstory/2019/05/06/525626.htm
8 MedRisk Managed Physical Medicine, “Telemedicine & the Injured Worker: Benefits and Opportunities”, https://www.medrisknet.com/telemedicine-injured-worker-benefits-opportunities
9 NCCI, “Telemedicine and Workers Compensation”, https://www.ncci.com/Articles/Pages/II_Insights-Telemedicine-WorkersComp.aspx
10 NU Property Casualty 360, “The rise of telemedicine in workers’ comp”, https://www.propertycasualty360.com/2020/07/01/the-rise-of-telemedicine-in-workers-comp/
11 Risk & Insurance, “Is Telemedicine actually Impacting your Worker’s Comp Claims?”, https://riskandinsurance.com/telemedicine-impacting-workers-comp/