TASB Risk Management Fund

How To Use Telemedicine for Workers' Compensation

September 24, 2019 Dr. Brian Buck

Are you curious about how your organization can implement telemedicine as a part of your Workers’ Compensation program? Learn more about what telemedicine is, the benefits of a telemedicine program, and how you can collaborate with a telemedicine provider to implement it at your organization.

What is telemedicine?

Telemedicine is the remote evaluation, treatment, and diagnosis of patients using telecommunications technology. Appointments are usually conducted through a mobile app that enables patients to virtually chat with a physician through a video conference on a computer, tablet, or smartphone.

This form of evaluation and treatment can be used for minor no lost-time claims or follow-up appointments. Prescriptions for diagnostic testing, physical therapy, drugs, and referrals to specialists are all possible with a telemedicine treating doctor. Providers and physicians are not able to prescribe controlled opioid drugs using telemedicine.

While you may have already been familiar with telemedicine, the concept of using it for Workers’ Compensation claims is new to everyone. Telemedicine use first expanded in 2017, when the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1107 to enable telemedicine visits to be treated the same as in-person doctor visits. In 2018, the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act enabled medical providers to treat injured employees using telemedicine. Organizations are now able to implement telemedicine into their Workers’ Compensation benefits for employees.

How has the TASB Risk Management Fund (Fund) researched and utilized telemedicine?

To provide innovative solutions to address our members’ changing needs, which include the need for delivering medical care to injured workers in an efficient and timely manner that minimizes lost time from work and lost instructional time, we carefully selected five Fund members to help set up a pilot program from January–June 2019 for the districts to use telemedicine for Workers’ Compensation visits.

Pilot progam participants

The pilot members included Austin ISD, Katy ISD, Killeen ISD, Mesquite ISD, and San Felipe Del Rio CISD, who were selected based on their interest in telemedicine and proactive approach in managing their Workers' Compensation programs. The Fund selected Concentra and RediMD, both a part of the Political Subdivision Workers’ Compensation Alliance (the Alliance), as telemedicine providers for the pilot project.

Pilot program demographics:

  • Claimants ages ranged from 23–66
  • 10 out of 23 claimants were prescribed medication
  • One out of 23 were prescribed physical therapy
  • 57 percent of telemedicine claims only had one or two telemedicine visits
  • 19 out of 23 have been placed at Maximum Medical Improvement

Causes of injuries treated by telemedicine:

Telemedicine is commonly used for incidents such as human or insect bites, noise exposure, minor assault, stress, skin irritations, wounds, and minor burns.

The top causes of injures treated with telemedicine in the pilot were:

  • Bite/assault
  • Chemical exposure
  • Hearing
  • Lifting
  • Slips, trips, and falls
  • Struck by object

Satisfaction with telemedicine:

  • 100 percent were able to quickly schedule telemedicine appointment and that it was easy to access
  • 86 percent said their Telemedicine technology used during the appointment was easy to use
  • 86 percent were satisfied with their telemedicine experience

The pilot team met regularly to design a telemedicine program that met each of the member participant’s unique needs. TASB adjusters were also educated and trained on telemedicine services.

What are the benefits of telemedicine?

Telemedicine benefits both the employee and the employer.

Benefits include:

  • Faster access to care for injured worker
  • Less lost time from work
  • Reduced lost instructional time
  • Decreased dependence on substitutes to cover while employees attend medical appointments
  • Less time and expense associated with traveling to doctor appointments and waiting for an exam

San Felipe Del Rio CISD Employee Benefits and Support Services Coordinator Laura English has seen multiple benefits from rolling out a telemedicine program. The district began using telemedicine for Workers’ Compensation through the 2019 pilot program and had previously used telemedicine through their employee benefits program prior to that.

“The biggest benefit of implementing a Workers’ Compensation Telemedicine Program at San Felipe Del Rio CISD is that it can help provide more efficient care and a quicker return to work to our staff,” she said.  “We are located in a rural area, and the providers who treat workers compensation injuries are very limited.”

Katy ISD Risk Management Director Lance Nauman said he has also seen an abundance of benefits from telemedicine, including providing quality care that eliminates downtime; reducing indirect labor costs;  keeping staff members away from ill patients while waiting to be seen; securing DWC forms more timely; and increasing the speed on modified duty implementation.

Why is communication important to the success of your telemedicine program?

It is important that you help everyone feel comfortable with the idea of getting treatment through telecommunications technology. As a part of a communications plan, you should promote what telemedicine is, how it works, and what the benefits are for your staff. Along with this, it is important to promote the program and help inform your employees on the topic of telemedicine as a treatment option.

“We learned that we need to promote the program more in order to help our staff feel more comfortable or be more receptive of the virtual healthcare concept,” English said.

Promotion and communication are two of the most important pieces to consider in implementing a telemedicine Workers’ Compensation program.

“Critical to the success of this program is an effective communication plan that is repeated,” Nauman said.

How can you make telemedicine use easier for your employees?

In addition to making sure employees are comfortable with the concept of using telemedicine, there are ways that you can make it even more accessible for them. This includes providing a private space or even computers that can be used for telemedicine visits. For example, San Felipe Del Rio set up telemedicine kiosks throughout the school district for employees who did not have easy access to a personal computer or smart phone.

How do you get started using telemedicine for Workers’ Compensation visits?

Contact Concentra Telemed or RediMD for details about their services and how to enroll. Ask questions to determine which provider is right for you. Read more about the benefits of implementing telemedicine and how to contact our vetted telemedicine providers.

English urges other organizations to try telemedicine to reap the same rewards she has seen.

“I would highly encourage those interested to try [telemedicine],” she said. “This program has helped us provide a quicker and more efficient service to our staff. It saves the injured employee from incurring lost time and expenses due to travel and long waiting periods at the doctor’s office.”

Dr. Brian Buck is the TASB Medical Director who works in the Workers’ Compensation division, providing medical expertise to support claims decisions. 

Editor's note: This article was originally published in June 2019 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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