Workers’ Compensation represents a domain that is subjected to constant change.  From legal reform to evolving insurance carrier policies, there is a lack of universal consistency in the handling of claims.  In an effort to determine best practices involving Workers’ Compensation issues, it is beneficial to examine recent trends.

Telemedicine

The introduction of technology, specifically the use of telemedicine, has made the recovery process for some injured workers easier in different aspects. Telemedicine can be defined as the delivery of medical care and information via a telecommunications network.  This may include triage over the phone, video conferencing using a computer and webcam, or via a smart phone app.  One of the problems that telemedicine may alleviate is injured workers returning to work without attending follow-up visits with their attending physician. Documented employee excuses for missing these appointments range from no time, limited transportation, or excessive travel distance.  These physician visits could be handled virtually, eliminating the costs associated with travel and wait time.  Telemedicine provides an option for injured employees to get in touch with their doctors and receive the medical attention they need; regardless of their location or time of the day.   While telemedicine may be a better alternative in some instances, face-to-face care may be more appropriate for complex injuries or for injured workers who would perceive in-person treatment as a higher level quality of care.

Return to Work Programs

The prevalence of Return to Work programs has increased substantially in the last decade.  A Return to Work program allows injured workers to either return to their pre-injury job in a limited capacity or to transitional work; while meeting doctor prescribed restrictions to avoid re-injury.  Employees who are not given the option to return to work, and instead are left to stay home to recover, are at higher risk of depression, re-injury, or turning to legal action.  A company which keeps in touch with its injured employee and re-engages them in the workplace with a light duty job shows they care about and are invested in that person.  The benefits of Return to Work programs are numerous.  In addition to providing the injured worker with a continued sense of job security and value, they also maintain regular communication with the injured worker, reduce or eliminate the indemnity (wage loss) portion of a Workers’ Comp claim, and retain trained / experienced employees.

Opioid Control

Opioids are drugs that act on the nervous system to relieve pain. Continued use or abuse can lead to physical dependence and/or withdrawal symptoms.  In Workers’ Comp claims, opioids are frequently prescribed when pain relievers are called for.  In order to combat addictions and other negative side effects from opioid abuse, there have been reported decreases in the number of Workers’ Comp claims where opioids have been prescribed.  In cases where opioids are prescribed, many Workers’ Compensation carriers are enforcing guidelines which require that use should be limited to short-term periods and contain a tapering off period.  State reforms directed at curbing opioid abuse have also been implemented in some states across the country; which include strengthening of prescription drug monitoring programs and adoption of treatment guidelines and drug formularies.

These are a few of the prevalent recent trends in Workers’ Comp.  Utilized appropriately, they can contribute to better outcomes for both the employer and the injured worker in a time where a successful recovery is the number one goal.  There will assuredly be continued changes and reforms to policies and programs and it will require the dedicated attention and efforts of Workers’ Comp professionals to establish best practices.