In today’s world, technology and innovation have changed the way we live our lives. However, workers’ compensation claims management seems to be failing to keep up with the pace of change. With the ability to communicate and access information instantaneously, it only makes sense to bring “new school” technology to the workers’ comp arena. Peer reviews and independent medical exams may provide some practical ways to reduce the cost of unnecessary procedures, but what about the total costs incurred by delaying care for necessary procedures?
Patients with injuries that require immediate treatment, such as a torn quadriceps tendon, often face delays as their claims are processed. This is where telemedicine comes into play. While telemedicine is more commonly used for internal medicine and psychiatry consultations, it can also be a useful tool in orthopedics. Access to a board-certified orthopedic surgeon can be difficult, but telemedicine provides patients with the opportunity to meet with one at any time of day.
During a telemedicine appointment, the orthopedist can take a detailed history of the work event that caused the injury and observe how the patient can move the injured extremity or body part. The orthopedist can then make recommendations for immediate care and diagnostics, and review with both the injured worker and supervisor when (and with which restrictions, if any) the patient can return to work. Weekly follow-up visits can be scheduled to review the local treating doctor’s plan, assess the patient’s progress, and modify the work restrictions if necessary.
Employers should treat every injured worker like an MVP. The NFL is a great example of an entity that realizes the importance of knowledge and speed. Head team physicians and their medical staff walk the sidelines waiting to care for injured players. They now have small medical tents just off the sideline in order to perform private physical examinations during the game if needed. Additionally, most stadiums are equipped with digital x-ray machines so that a definitive diagnosis can be made on the spot. NFL team owners realize the importance of getting their highly paid players back on the field. This should be no different to the average employer that needs their injured workers back to work and ready to produce with as little downtime as possible.
Intelligent case management instituted immediately following an injury will provide the best pathway for return and can limit the chances that isolated injuries will snowball into larger claims. This will ultimately reduce payment awards and unnecessary treatment. Instituting early return-to-work programs gets workers back six weeks sooner, according to the RAND Institute. By bringing intelligence to a complicated problem early on, we can reduce costs and improve the quality of care.
In conclusion, technology and innovation are advancing the field of workers’ compensation treatment, and telemedicine is one of the most useful tools available. Employers should prioritize the care of their injured workers by instituting early return-to-work programs and providing access to board-certified orthopedic surgeons through telemedicine. By doing so, employers can reduce costs and improve the quality of care for their employees. It’s time to allow the winds of change and technological innovation to bring an old-school concept back to the forefront of workers’ compensation case management. The doctor will see you right now.