‘The Doctor Will See You Right Now.’ How Telemedicine and Tech Innovations Are Advancing Workers’ Comp Treatment

By: | March 1, 2023

Dr. Sean Lager is a board certified orthopedic surgeon. He can be reached at [email protected].

“I love when I spend millions of dollars and my workers never return,” said no employer ever.

Although technology and innovation have dramatically changed the way we now live, workers’ compensation claims management seems to be failing to keep up. We now have the ability to communicate and access information instantaneously, so why not bring “new school” technology to the workers’ comp arena?

In my New York City orthopedic surgery practice, I routinely experience unnecessary delays when trying to obtain authorization for some of my injured workers’ comp patients.

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?

Ask any patient with a torn quadriceps tendon who cannot extend their knee against gravity how they are doing, and their answer will be “Not well.” The only treatment solution for this injury is surgery, but this request is frequently delayed by claims adjusters.

Telemedicine has increased in popularity since the COVID-19 outbreak began, particularly for internal medicine and psychiatry consultations. This is less common in orthopedics — however, it can still be a useful tool.

Access to a board-certified orthopedic surgeon is not as easy as it would seem. Urgent care centers and emergency rooms are most often staffed by emergency medicine doctors or physician assistants.

And while these practitioners might be helpful for diagnosing or treating some injuries, other injuries are not diagnosed in a timely manner, or the injuries’ management is inappropriate. This can result in wasted time and poor use of resources.

Telemedicine provides patients with the opportunity to meet with board-certified orthopedic surgeons any time of day. While the doctor cannot jump through the screen and physically examine the patient, it is possible to get 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.

Isn’t each worker valuable to their employer? Why not provide real-time care when your employees need it most? Employers can 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.

“How can we reduce costs?” — a commonly asked question in workers’ compensation cases. A modernized case management platform is a sound way to save money and improve quality of care. As Benjamin Franklin told us, “Time is money.”

Commonly known workers’ compensation statistics:

  • 30% of all injured workers miss time from work.
  • Injured workers present a 55% chance of returning after they’ve been absent from the workplace for six months.
  • Over 40% of workers’ comp injuries are orthopedic in nature.
  • Instituting early return-to-work programs gets workers back six weeks sooner, according to the RAND Institute.

We should allow the winds of change and technological innovation to bring an old-school concept back to the forefront of workers’ compensation case management: Bring intelligence to a complicated problem early on, not down the road.

“The doctor will see you now” is a phrase all your injured workers should hear as soon as an injury is reported. &

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