Today, people can connect to the Internet and with each other in many different ways – desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. This technology is now being used to connect doctors and patients remotely – in place of in-office visits. The trend of using telemedicine in workers’ compensation cases is expected to continue through 2021 and beyond.
Electronic communications are being used for consultation, monitoring of a patient’s condition, management of chronic conditions, management of medication, and other clinical services – provided the video and audio connections are private and secure. Telemedicine usually includes a video consultation, after an injury, where the doctor can hopefully make a diagnosis of the workers’ injuries – though the worker may need to go to a lab to have certain medical tests done. The physician can then conduct follow-up examinations remotely instead of in-person.
“According to a representative from Kaiser Permanente (KP), a leader in telemedicine services, In 2015, of KP’s 110 million interactions between physicians and members, 56% were virtual, surpassing physical visits for the first time.”
The US Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates the country’s largest healthcare system, is using telemedicine for many veterans nationwide.
The use of telemedicine during the pandemic
During the pandemic, the use of remote technology has been a life-saver for many workers. Workers who use telemedicine can do so from home so they don’t need to be in contact with anyone who might have the disease – other than their own family members. Physicians and healthcare providers are using telemedicine to consult with their patients.
Advantages of telemedicine in work injury cases
There are some advantages to using telemedicine for all types of injuries. Telemedicine is useful for the following situations:
- If an injury occurs during a night shift when most medical offices and facilities are closed, a physician can remotely begin the evaluation process
- If an injury occurs in a rural area or an area where there aren’t many quality medical facilities
- When accidents happen away from the company site. Here, the worker can call into the company doctor.
- It’s generally easier to schedule appointments. Patients can wait to see the doctor in the comfort of their home instead of waiting in the doctor’s office hoping there’s an interesting magazine to read.
- Telemedicine can be used to remotely measure a patient’s vital signs
- Telemedicine can be used to prescribe prescription drugs remotely
- Text alerts and messages keep the worker/patient informed of important health information
Telemedicine is useful for post-surgery care and second medical opinions. Telemedicine makes it easier to connect with specialists who may not be locally available.
According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), “In certain situations, where accessibility to immediate medical care may be limited, one type of telemedicine service—24/7 tele-triage—may be an invaluable resource for initial assessment and evaluation.
Telemedicine also helps workers and employers because it saves on the time and expense of transportation to and from the doctor’s/healthcare providers’ office. Telemedicine also makes it easier to see specialists and to reduce delays in getting medical treatment.
Some of the limitations and risks of using telemedicine
Generally, telemedicine is only advisable for non-critical situations. Many workers do need to be treating in an emergency room or a doctor’s office so the physicians can properly and fully examine the patient.
There are many legal issues involved with telemedicine such as that physicians can generally only give advice to patients they’ve seen in person at least once and can only give advice to patients who live in the same state as the doctor.
Some of the downsides of using telemedicine for work injury patients include:
- The technology isn’t always reliable. Signal or connection failures can mean missing an appointment.
- Some workers just aren’t comfortable with any type of technology including video technology
According to NNCI, some of the other risks of telemedicine include:
- “Lack of physician fee schedules for telemedicine services
- Lack of regulations and policies for licensing and privacy
- Jeopardized quality of care with potential for misdiagnosis
- Possible high start-up technology costs
- Cybersecurity threats; security of data.”
As telemedicine expands, medical practitioners and patients will need to develop a balance between in-person visits and the use of telemedicine.
Recent Telemedicine Legislation
States and federal agencies, such as Medicare, are working to keep current with the advances in technology. According to NNCI, “In early 2018, Texas proposed a rule that would expand injured workers’ access to telemedicine services by lifting a restriction in the Medicare-based reimbursement policy that limits the use of telemedicine to underserved areas—typically rural regions with few healthcare providers.” Other restrictions, depending on the state, require that telemedicine could only be provided to a patient in a doctor’s office, hospital, or clinic, but not at a patient’s home.
Generally, the types of telemedicine services that are covered by workers’ compensation insurance, the provider requirements, and how reimbursement works vary from state to state. Some states require that doctors even have a special telemedicine license.
It is likely that the use of telemedicine will expand even when the pandemic is over. Because telemedicine helps reduce costs and may improve the outcomes for the worker (because the worker has access to specialists and his/her medical care is monitored electronically), telemedicine should be advantageous for both the worker and the employer’s insurance company. In addition, as telemedicine expands, workers may find that they enjoy it even more because of the reduced need for travel while they’re not feeling well and for the other advantages that we’ve described.
Attorney Joe Miller has been a strong advocate for injured and ill workers in North Carolina and Virginia for more than 30 years. He works with your physicians and the company doctors to help ensure you are receiving the medical care you need and deserve. To discuss your North Carolina or Virginia workers’ compensation claim with an experienced and caring work injury lawyer, call attorney Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295. or use my online contact form to schedule an appointment. Workers can also use our New Electronic Case Review. It’s a new way of communicating with clients that we’re offering – to allow workers to contact us remotely.