This is a post for medical providers, employers, and employees who are interested in understanding how telemedicine can improve workers’ compensation in California.
When it comes to workers’ compensation, who benefits from telemedicine? The short answer: everybody. But the gains will be immediately apparent to the injured worker.
First, let’s think about how an injured worker currently experiences the workers’ compensation process.
The worker gets hurt.
They get in a car.
They drive to a medical clinic.
They sit in the waiting room somewhere between several minutes and several hours.
They finally get into the exam room, where they describe their injury to the provider and undergo a physical exam. The doctor provides a medical diagnosis, recommends treatments, gives work restrictions, and completes a Doctor’s First (5021) report.
All told, this takes about two to four hours from the time of the injury until the patient leaves the clinic.
And then, of course, they need to come back in a few weeks for a physician’s progress (PR-2) report. Once again, they drive to the clinic and wait in the waiting room. In the exam room, the physician checks the effectiveness of current treatments, decides whether or not to order new treatments or referrals, and then concludes the visit—frequently without taking any measurements or performing procedures that could not have been done remotely.
Often, the injured worker drives away from the clinic thinking, “I needed to go to the doctor for that?”
How Does Telemedicine Change This Scenario?
When the injured worker gets hurt, they can login to a telemedicine platform such as Kura MD and instantly see a physician. The doctor conducts a normal visit by taking the history, performing the exam, arriving at a diagnosis, creating a treatment plan, and assigning work restrictions.
When using telemedicine, the injured worker can save hours of their time.
Of course, many injuries require hands-on procedures; you can’t treat a laceration via telemedicine. However, even in these cases telemedicine still allows the medical provider to refer the patient to the appropriate facility, such as urgent care or an emergency room.
After the injured worker’s first visit and Doctor’s First report is complete, they need a follow up visit (PR-2 report) every 45 days. This adds up to a lot of visits, most of which are completely hands-off. A typical follow up visit is oriented around how the injured worker is responding to current treatments, whether or not treatments have been authorized, and making decisions about trying new treatments. These in-person follow-up visits can be completely replaced with telemedicine without any loss in quality of treatment.
As a result, the stakeholders save money—not to mention time. (Don’t forget all the hours that the patient spends driving to and from the medical practice.) With telemedicine, the injured worker doesn’t even need to leave the workplace, or can choose to have their visits from their own home.
Telemedicine in Action
Let’s look at a specific example. Imagine that a grocery clerk strains her back at work. Assume that before her injury has been completely resolved, she will have a total of twelve office visits, and that each visit takes fifteen minutes. Then imagine that it takes her fifteen minutes to drive to the clinic, and that there is a two hour wait time at the medical provider’s office. This employee normally earns fifteen dollars an hour.
In this instance, telemedicine could have kept the employee at work, saving 550 dollars.
Here’s how it adds up: Driving to twelve visits is 180 miles of driving. That’s six hours of drive time, and at fifty five cents per mile that’s 100 dollars worth of expenses. If the waiting room time is two hours per visit, then the patient spends a total of twenty-four hours sitting around. Time away from the job adds up to 3.8 work days, which means 450 dollars in lost wages for the employee, and lost productivity for the employer’s business.
In California each year there are over 550,000 recorded work injuries. If we multiply this savings across all injuries, that’s over 302 million dollars that telemedicine could save California per year.
What’s stopping medical providers and employers from using telemedicine?
We believe it might be a lack of awareness about the legality and functionality of telemedicine. However, this is a fully functional and legal option for caring for injured workers in our state, and there is an ever-expanding treasure trove of tools that make telemedicine faster and safer than ever before.
Want to learn more about telemedicine? check out the “Occupational Telemedicine” episode on the California Work Comp Report podcast or read other telemedicine related articles here on the RateFast Blog.
Also, we love to chat with fellow workers’ compensation enthusiasts who care about the system and all the people it affects. Email us with thoughts and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.