Unboxing Telemedicine for Workers' Compensation: No Assembly Required

Lawrence Buirse

Most businesses are accustomed to doing more with less. That capability has been put to the test over the past year as companies have been forced to make adjustments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic downfall. Companies of all sizes have been forced to adjust to a new normal as the pandemic impacted their finances and triggered a range of workforce challenges.

Many employers had to downsize, which meant fewer employees had to work longer and harder than normal – a formula for overexertion, and ultimately, repetitive-use injuries. These injury types often derive from workplace musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), and typically, these conditions are compensable according to most state workers’ compensation laws.

While minor in comparison to some life-threatening workplace injuries, MSD injuries can become just as serious if improperly treated or not treated in a timely fashion. According to Ann Schnure, vice president of telemedicine operations at Concentra®, that’s where occupational telemedicine can be a game-changer.

“The key to delivering care is getting the employee in front of the right care provider as soon as possible so that the injury is diagnosed, and a treatment plan is begun as quickly as possible,” Schnure says. 

Schnure explains that an occupational telemedicine platform such as Concentra Telemed® can deliver the right level of care to workforces regardless of industry, location, day, or time. Occupational telemedicine has the potential to remove care delivery barriers by connecting the appropriate care provider with the injured employee without the typical logistical challenges. And because some of the most common workplace injuries do not require hands-on or in-person care, telemedicine is an alternative that offers convenience and improves care access without compromising care quality.

Occupational Telemedicine at Work

Concentra Telemed launched its occupational telemedicine platform in 2017 to provide access to care for employees with relatively minor workplace injuries and illnesses. Every workplace injury is not suitable for occupational telemedicine; however, it’s worth noting that roughly 30 percent of all initial work injuries and 60 percent of all injury rechecks treated by Concentra can be treated using telemedicine. Considering that Concentra treats one out of every five work-related injuries in America, this represents a sizeable number of injured employees nationwide who can be diagnosed and treated by a licensed medical professional without visiting a medical facility. That includes many workplace MSD injuries.

“Along with abrasions, burns, and rashes, musculoskeletal injuries are the bulk of what we see,” says Schnure. Other occupational injuries that are treatable using Concentra’s telemedicine platform include:

  • Grade I and II upper and lower extremity strains/sprains
  • Minor neck and back strains/sprains
  • Bruises/contusions
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Bloodborne pathogen exposures

Setting the Record Straight

Contrary to popular belief, implementing a telemedicine program for workers’ compensation is not as challenging as it may sound – or at least the path to offering video health technology for workplace injury care is not as rigid as revealed in the recent past. Workers’ compensation regulations have become more flexible, and state and federal laws pertaining to the use of video health technology for various medical specialties have also leaned in favor of higher utilization. 

Another misconception about telemedicine is that it comes with a high price tag consisting of upfront costs, contracts, and costly equipment. Schnure strongly urges employers to avoid this error in thought. 

“Businesses wanting to use technology (for occupational telemedicine) sometimes invest too much time trying to stand up equipment when most injured workers prefer to use their own device,” Schnure says. Some employers who utilize Concentra Telemed provide basic equipment for employee use, such as a laptop or tablet in a designated area. But many companies allow employees to use their personal mobile device to access the telemedicine platform. This option is viewed as a win-win because it enables the employee who needs medical care to access it on a familiar device at work, home, or in between. It also helps to control company costs by not having to invest in expensive, digital-health devices.

Not a DIY Project

After an employer decides to integrate telemedicine with its workers’ compensation program, it’s time to strategize. And while one can appreciate the roll-up-your-sleeves approach of a small business, implementing occupational telemedicine is not exactly a do-it-yourself project. No assembly may be required to utilize telemedicine for occupational injuries, but there is a blueprint to successful telemedicine implementation and adoption.

Just like workers’ compensation, there are many regulations and unknowns to telemedicine implementation that can be challenging to even the most established and resourceful of companies. Partnering with an occupational medicine provider that knows how to leverage the features and benefits of a digital health solution to enhance a workers’ compensation program would be a good initial step.

Implementation and Adoption

Implementing telemedicine requires planning and training, as merging technology with workplace health care is a delicate balance. From platform reliability to information security, there is a checklist to follow that helps to ensure a seamless implementation. A telemedicine provider with experience in the workers’ compensation space can walk employers through many of the steps while educating and advising them on other key factors, such as state-by-state regulations and the importance of selecting a telemedicine platform that is easy to deploy.

After selecting a telemedicine vendor and devising an implementation plan, building awareness around a telemedicine option for workplace injury care is key to adoption. Launching ongoing marketing campaigns that highlight the features and benefits of a telemedicine solution (e.g., convenience, ease of use, etc.) will help appeal to employees who may not view digital health as a reliable medical care option following a work injury. Steering some employees from driving to a nearby hospital or urgent care center to logging into a telemedicine app will require retraining on how they view health care. Utilizing employee engagement tools and resources (e.g., video demos, webinars, etc.) will help to demonstrate how telemedicine works, reassure employees of its effectiveness, and gain trust in the solution.

Breaking the Silence

Technology continues to impact all facets of our lives. It also impacts how our companies operate. The tide is changing in the workplace, and technology is becoming more prominent in how employers manage workforce health and safety. Telemedicine experienced a resurgence during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, which helped to pave a roadmap to how employers could adopt and utilize digital health in ways once thought unimaginable. The silence has been broken, and merging telemedicine with the workers’ compensation space is no longer the latest trend in workplace injury care management; it is part of the new normal.

Partnering with Concentra

Concentra is a leading provider of occupational injury care services and one of the first providers of a telemedicine platform dedicated to workers’ compensation. We offer the right level of expertise and support to ensure telemedicine success. Learn more about Concentra’s telemedicine solution for workers’ compensation.