Employers considering telemedicine as a treatment option for occupational injuries can anticipate its advantages, but should be aware of two important things:
- Have an experienced clinician providing care direction.
- Some state regulations have not caught up with this innovative treatment option.
Experienced guidelines-based guidance
Telemedicine is a useful treatment option for minor occupational injuries. It is also very convenient for recheck appointments and final discharge for return to work. Injured employees should be qualified for telemedicine by an experienced clinician who can quickly ascertain issues including co-morbidities, type and severity of injury, discomfort with technology, or absence of a comfortable private area for the medical exam. Reliable guidelines and conversation between the clinician and the employee foster correct guidance for self-care, telemedicine or in-person care.
Also, in states where the injured employee has the choice of treatment providers, trained clinicians understand how to provide helpful options to promote good healthcare choices. Most injured employees understand the importance of finding the best doctor. The clinician offering treatment direction will help guide those employees and facilitate a positive start for the claim and recovery journey. Important information about the injured employee gathered during triage can be passed along to the telemedicine provider to make the telemedicine experience faster and more efficient.
Adherence with state regulations
We have noted that some telemedicine providers are now offering telemedicine care in Colorado, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia. Because these states require the employer to provide a list of physicians for the employee to choose a treatment provider, employers need to list telemedicine providers on their panels. Colorado, Georgia and Pennsylvania require that the provider group be listed on local panels provided for injured workers. Virginia and Tennessee require employers to include individual provider information on panels. Tennessee also requires an established provider and patient relationship for telemedicine activity to occur. Claims administrators must help employers ensure they are offering valid provider panels when telemedicine is a care option. Missing the applicable state’s panel regulations can jeopardize the employer’s ability to continue using providers known for quality outcomes as the claim progresses beyond initial care.
Employers should make sure that panel production and distribution and injured worker care direction overall remains compliant with applicable state law. Some telemedicine providers have many physicians at the ready, and incoming referrals are sent to the first available provider. In those situations, it can be a challenge to meet certain states’ individual provider listing requirements; employers should wait for state regulations to address telemedicine before they allow referrals to telemedicine providers.
Benefits of a qualified program
Telemedicine provides qualified injured employees with clinical healthcare quickly and conveniently. The financial and service benefits include:
- Reduced time away from work due to eliminating travel and wait times associated with onsite clinical care
- Improved convenience and productivity, and lower costs related to mileage and travel, when using telemedicine for rechecks and releases from care
- Reduced time to treatment, resulting in shorter case duration
- Reduction in costly emergency room (ER) visits; this is particularly valuable in the many areas, especially rural areas, that do not have brick and mortar occupational injury locations
- Elimination of unnecessary ancillary care in many cases that would be referred from ER, non-preferred occupational injury centers or doctors
Telemedicine offers many benefits; however, employers should consider these points and consult with their claims administrator for compliance guidance. When facilitated by an experienced clinician, supported by proven guidelines, and compliant with direction of care and panel requirements, a well-planned telemedicine program can offer many benefits, while saving the employer issues down the road.