The digital revolution now extends to medical care when an employee becomes injured on the job -- and that’s a good thing. It’s called telemedicine and in simple terms, it facilitates more immediate and better care by connecting patients with a health care provider who need not be at the same location via phone calls, video chats and email on tablets, smartphones, and other wireless tools. These connections can also involve any health professional, including physicians, nurses and pharmacists. At Patriot, we recognize telemedicine’s great potential but we are also taking our time to understand both the benefits and drawbacks.
Telemedicine does not replace in-person examinations but does deliver important benefits to injured employees including the immediate triaging of injuries and eliminating the drive time and office wait time for appointments. In addition, doctors can conduct a number of tests remotely such as blood pressure and an electrocardiogram. Employees working in remote locations can seek treatment guidance. Telemedicine also facilitates quicker intervention and treatment of less serious accidents.
For employers, the benefits of telemedicine include cost savings and faster claim closings.
Telemedicine is not without its critics, however, and there is legitimate concern over the degree to which patients will embrace its use. For some patients, digital interactions may appear cold and impersonal. Another potential problem could be an increase in diagnostic tests because of physicians’ concerns if there is no face-to-face examination.
Telemedicine in workers compensation cases probably works effectively in some industries and less so in others. For example, retail and white collar businesses generate low severity claims and so may be better suited for telemedicine. On the flip side, industries that generate high severity injuries, including oil and gas and transportation, present greater challenges because they often result in more emergency room type injuries.
There is no question that telemedicine will play an increasing role in future medical care and treatment. Patriot has launched pilot programs in Florida and Georgia and has plans for a rollout in California. We want to learn how to walk, however, before we run. For one thing, each state has different telemedicine policies and the types of services covered. Some states require physicians to have a special telemedicine license. Most importantly, telemedicine will only deliver on its full potential if patients physicians, regulators and insurers adjust their thinking and give themselves time to address and solve the challenges each face. We will do our part.
*Patriot Underwriters, Inc. conducts insurance business in all of its licensed states as PUI INSURANCE AGENCY