Telehealth Shows Potential for Workers’ Compensation

| URAC Staff
image of woman looking at computer screen

Advanced telehealth programs have 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.

Telehealth technology has advanced to the point where physicians can zoom in on a worker’s injury to determine whether a laceration requires stitches or a burn needs more sophisticated care. It enables workers to meet with physicians faster, spend less time traveling to a physical location to receive basic care and get back to work faster.

This is not your grandpa’s Facetime. Telehealth programs that are customized for occupational health can reduce utilization, lower costs, improve the accuracy of claim compensability determinations and boost the injured worker’s care experience.

How it works
Using a HIPAA-compliant smartphone app, a triage nurse can initiate a video consult to meet face-to-face with the injured employee minutes or even seconds after the nonemergent injury occurs to discuss the employee’s symptoms and visually assess the patient. If necessary, the nurse can immediately connect the worker with a physician for a medical examination. The session’s audio and video also can be recorded and saved.

Later, a clinician can use telehealth to determine whether the worker’s functional capacities are improving or may need additional care from other providers. A patient’s postoperative follow-up appointment or second surgical opinion also can take place using telehealth technology. Virtual physical therapy may also be an option. Research in 2016 found that clinical outcomes associated with telehealth sessions were equal to those that resulted from traditional in-person therapy sessions.

Some companies have even created on-site “virtual clinics” that are stocked with telediagnostic devices that enable physicians to take blood pressure, complete an electrocardiogram and perform other tests remotely.

Other benefits of telehealth include:

  • Improved triage: A trained medical professional can make the initial assessment about the seriousness of the worker’s injuries—rather than the employer.
  • Decreased utilization: It provides an alternative to emergency care or urgent care visits for minor injuries.
  • Lower costs: By enabling clinicians to triage normal severity, less complex claims and providing access to specialists whom the worker may not otherwise be able to see, telehealth can help reduce the claim duration and help control costs.

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