Telemedicine Beyond the Pandemic: How This Tool Remains Vital for Workers’ Comp

A session at this year's National Comp looked at how telemedicine has made a name for itself in the workers' comp industry.
By: | December 2, 2022

The incorporation of telemedicine into health care, though a phenomenon born before the pandemic, found itself center stage amid global shutdowns.

And while the fog from these shutdowns has lifted, telemedicine has remained a critical offering to those in need of health care. The benefits of telemed are broad. With its ease of use and convenience factor, it’s no surprise that the public continues to utilize the practice.

As telemedicine’s popularity grows, so too do the innovations and updates it experiences. A session at this year’s National Comp conference entitled “Telehealth’s Hi-tech Solutions for Improved Quality and Convenience” delved into the various updates, regulations and policies that telehealth is considering and what its future could look like.

Benefits and Challenges

While telemedicine’s use progressed dramatically during the pandemic, widespread adoption is still relatively new in the health care field. The benefits it has shown so far make a strong case for it to be cemented into providers’ toolboxes.

“The first thing I tell everyone is that telemedicine is just another tool in the toolbox [when it comes to] offering medical care,” said Ann Schnure, vice president of telemedicine operations for Concentra.

Schnure then went on to list some of the benefits of telemedicine use and why it could be enticing for providers to implement.

“[Telemedicine] provides 24/7 access, and employees don’t have to leave the workplace [to receive] a diagnosis and a treatment plan,” she said.

Additionally, the introduction of telemedicine has addressed the issue of access to care, which is especially relevant for those living or working in suburban or rural areas.

Other benefits include the potential for both better health outcomes and cost savings, as well as providing the right level of treatment for the injury that’s occurred.

With its benefits come challenges, and telemedicine has had a few to face in the past two years. Perhaps the biggest hurdle for telemed to overcome were the misconceptions that still surrounded it at the beginning of the pandemic.

According to Schnure, those misconceptions about telehealth have “changed dramatically,” but employers still may be feeling doubtful if certain equipment is needed or if it’s a stand-alone care option. Schnure debunked those doubts.

“Telehealth is simply a care delivery system [offered] by a provider, and basic smartphones are used,” she said.

Coupled with patients’ wariness are “regulatory roadblocks,” according to presenters at the session. Several questions still surround telehealth and state regulations as the practice becomes a more normalized component of health care.

Another challenge the session noted was the confusion around both fees and reimbursements when a telehealth visit occurs.

Policy Updates

Following the discussion of benefits and challenges was a policy and regulatory update from Adam Fowler, public policy and regulatory affairs manager at Optum Workers’ Comp and Auto No-Fault Solutions.

As telehealth acceptance grew among the general population, the same type of acceptance was experienced on the regulatory landscape. Fowler noted that this acceptance primarily stemmed from COVID-19. Acceptance of the practice led to more regulations within the workers’ comp space.

“COVID is what sparked quite a boom for telehealth in public policy,” Fowler said. “[Policies and regulations] were not as robust or extensive; now there’s more structure.”

This structure also made its way to the fees/reimbursement component of telemedicine, as several states enacted emergency telehealth rules. Both Rhode Island and Kentucky have adopted reimbursement rates and pricing for telemedicine visits, and Mississippi has “adopted new fee schedule rules for the practice of telemedicine/tele-emergency,” the speakers said.

Since the onset of the pandemic, 30 states have incorporated telemed policies into their workers’ comp offerings. Fowler listed some of what these policies entail: payable billing codes, waiving of pre-existing authorization requirements and more coverage of PT and OT.

The Future of Telemedicine

Telemedicine’s current capabilities are merely the tip of the iceberg, and future benefits and expansions are on the horizon.

The panel discussed three areas where they believe telehealth is going to expand: telehealth ordered lab tests, in-home blood draws and online lab results.

Additionally, some states are beginning to include Medicare or Medicaid paid at-home phlebotomist visits, thus making the process of incorporating telemedicine into routine health care much more realistic.

The future of telemedicine also depends on the evolution of the equipment being used, and Schnure reported that this component is also experiencing an upward trend.

“Video is getting better and better, and more stable,” she said.

“You’re going to see fewer people not be able to [access] telemedicine; that’s going to be the big change happening in the next year or two.” &

Emma Brenner is a staff writer with Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected].

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