2016 NWCDC

Technology Gives the Gift of Movement

Advanced medical technology is costly, but greatly improves quality of life for workers with catastrophic injuries.
By: | December 1, 2016 • 2 min read

The ability to stand and walk unassisted is something most of us take for granted, but many catastrophically injured workers face a lifetime either confined to a wheelchair or relying on a prosthetic to help them move.

Luckily, advancements in medical technology are making movement easier.

Mark Sidney, VP, claims, Midwest Employers Casualty Co., and Clare Hartigan, project manager, Virginia C. Crawford Research Institute, Shepherd Center, discussed these advancements at a Dec. 1 afternoon NWCDC session titled “The Bionic Claimant: Emerging Medical Technology’s Impact on Care and Cost.”

“Psychologically, being able to stand and look someone in the eye is a big deal.” — Clare Hartigan, project manager, Virginia C. Crawford Research Institute, Shepherd Center

Technology like myoelectric prostheses and exoskeletons can drastically improve quality of life for catastrophically injured workers, restoring some functionality and a sense of independence.

But this high-tech equipment comes with a hefty price tag.

Myoelectric devices, which use sensors and bioelectric signals to move the limb, can cost as much as $100,000. Exoskeletons are in the same ballpark, and this doesn’t include maintenance or the cost of replacing a device every five years or so.

“The difference in cost between a standard prosthetic and a myoelectric can be $1 million over the lifetime of a claim,” Sidney said.

More long-term studies are needed to prove the medical necessity of this technology, but the benefits are already clear.

“Just being able to get up and move leads to muscle strengthening and improved blood cholesterol and glucose levels,” Hartigan said.

“Psychologically, being able to stand and look someone in the eye is a big deal.”

To determine when a myoelectric device or exoskeleton is appropriate, workers’ compensation professionals should look at the patient’s lifestyle. What type of activities do they do? Are they more happy indoors or out? How often will they use their device?

Ultimately, it comes down to whether or not this advanced machinery will enable them to do things that are impossible with standard devices.

Katie Siegel is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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