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New York Considers Adding Telemedicine to Workers Comp Guidelines

A bill submitted this week in New York proposes creating a task force to study how telehealth and telemedicine might help employees in workers comp, as well as the providers treating them and the businesses employing them.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- New York may be taking a look at how telehealth can help the state’s worker’s comp system.

Senate Bill 1042, introduced this week by state Senator Catharine Young proposes establishing a seven-member task force to examine how connected health technology could improve outcomes for workers on worker’s comp, increase access to care providers and enable those providers to improve compliance with worker’s comp guidelines. The committee would also explore how telehealth and telemedicine could help employers and reduce fraud.

“The legislature recognizes due to geographic restrictions, provider shortages, inclement weather, restricted patient mobility and the lack of authorized workers' compensation medical providers that have familiarity with the language spoken by injured workers, patients face challenges in accessing healthcare providers and healthcare services,” the bill states. “It is critically important that injured workers are provided with the ability to receive quality medical care in an efficient and expeditious manner. Telehealth is a valuable tool in improving the continuity, coordination and efficiency of care for rural and underserved populations.”

A 2014 report by Towers Watson estimated that US businesses could save more than $6 billion a year by using telemedicine, while payers see the platform as an opportunity to cut down on manageable costs, like travel.

The independent healthcare accrediting organization URAC issued a report in May 2017 indicating that telehealth has “the potential to transform the workers’ compensation industry, providing injured employees with a convenient, personal and effective alternative to on-site medical care while reducing utilization of unnecessary services.”

“This is not your grandpa’s Facetime,” the organization noted. “Telehealth programs that are customized for occupational health can reduce utilization, lower costs, improve the accuracy of claim compensability determinations and boost the injured worker’s care experience.”

According to a 2017 survey conducted by Mitchell, a San Diego-based provider of technology, connectivity and information solutions to the Property & Casualty (P&C) claims and Collision Repair industries, 45 percent of respondents believe telemedicine will have the biggest impact on the industry, followed by artificial intelligence (19 percent) mobile technologies (14 percent), wearable devices (10 percent) and chatbots (1 percent). Roughly a quarter said they’d adopt such technologies within five years.

“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,” Shahin Hatamian, Senior Vice President of Product Management and strategy for Mitchell’s Casualty Solutions division, said in a press release. “The industry has generally been conservative about adopting new technologies. As we witness the effect of telepresence companies on other industries, and the global investment in artificial intelligence, it’s our view that these areas have a lot to offer workers’ compensation.”

If approved, New York’s task force would be comprised of three members appointed by the governor and the rest chosen by the Senate president and state Assembly speaker. It would be required to report back to lawmakers within the year.

Two earlier versions of the bill, submitted in 2015 and 2017, failed to make it through the Legislature.

Other states have been exploring how telehealth and telemedicine might be used in worker’s comp. Last year, Texas revised its Texas Workers Compensation Act and Rules to allow for some reimbursement through Medicare, regardless of where the worker is located.  

Also last year, The Travelers Companies added mHealth and telemedicine services to its workers comp coverage.

“We continually look for new ways to deliver a better workers compensation claim experience for someone who has been injured on the job,” Rich Ives, Vice President of Workers Compensation Claim for the Hartford, Conn.-based payer, said in a press release. “Our latest capabilities not only speed up access to medical care and make it easier to communicate, but they also address our customers’ top concerns — the health of their employees and the rising costs of health care.”

Even telehealth vendors like American Well have tailored their products to the workers’ comp industry. And the National Workers Compensation Conference & Expo has included at least one session on the topic over the past few years.

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