Workers' Comp Technology

Survey: Telemedicine Can Contain Costs, Improve Outcomes

A new survey by Mitchell International Inc. looks at the role advanced technologies may play in workers’ comp.
By: | December 4, 2017 • 2 min read

Rising medical costs continue to be a thorn in the side of workers’ compensation professionals. According to a 2016 report by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, medical benefits on lost time per claim rose from around $9,000 in 2003 to $28,500 in 2015 — an increase of more than 216 percent.

Industry leaders can’t do much to make X-rays, surgeries, physical therapy, or prescriptions any cheaper, but they are increasingly looking to advanced technologies to help contain costs through improved efficiency in delivery of care and claims management, among other areas.

According to survey of 275 U.S. workers’ compensation professionals conducted by Mitchell International Inc., most in the industry expect to adopt an advanced technology solution in the next five years. Thirty-three percent said their organization was “somewhat likely” to adopt new technology, while nearly 25 percent said it was “very likely.”

Chief among those new technologies is telemedicine. Nearly half (45 percent) of respondents think telemedicine will have the biggest impact on the workers’ comp industry, followed by artificial intelligence (19 percent), mobile apps (14 percent), and wearable devices (10 percent). According to a market research report by Orbis Research, the U.S. telemedicine market is projected to grow at a rate of 6 percent per year for the next two years, reaching a value of $7 billion by 2020.

The U.S. telemedicine market is projected to grow at a rate of 6 percent per year for the next two years, reaching a value of $7 billion by 2020.

Eighty-four percent of respondents think these technologies will improve automation efficiency primarily in claims and medical management — areas where controlling the direction of care can help to avoid unnecessary expenses and contain costs. Cost containment was the most influential reason why workers’ compensation organizations adopt advanced technologies, according to 54 percent of surveyed professionals.

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Within the realm of claims operations, respondents were fairly evenly split when asked which areas will be most impacted by new technologies — claims triage, direction of care, fraud management, and risk mitigation — with 16 to 18 percent of respondents identifying each of these functions.

Twenty-eight percent, however, said tech can have the greatest influence on improved medical outcomes. In addition to controlling costs, after all, workers’ compensation professionals want to ensure injured workers get the best and most appropriate care. Technologies that can improve outcomes while trimming costs benefit injured workers and workers’ compensation providers alike.

“As the workers’ compensation industry continues to navigate the ongoing challenges of rising health care costs and the need to create operational efficiencies, it’s clear that stakeholders are eager to explore the potential benefits of adopting advanced technologies,” said Shahin Hatamian, Mitchell’s senior vice president of product management and strategy, Casualty Solutions division, in a press release.

Mitchell will have the full survey results available at the company’s booth at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® in Las Vegas, Dec. 5 – Dec. 8.

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]