Bob Dylan wrote long ago “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”  While change is inevitable,  it is often  resisted.  Telemedicine is an excellent example.  Most of us have embraced the notion that the best medical care involves in-person doctor visits.  The global Coronavirus pandemic required us to reconsider.

Group health had previously begun to dispel the myth about in-person medical care, utilizing telemedicine for patient convenience.  With the pandemic, urgent care providers, employers and injured workers had to embrace telemedicine for workers’ compensation in ways that would have  been  unthinkable  just  six  months ago.

Concentra and Kaiser Permanente On the Job (KPOJ) are two prominent frontline medical providers for many ASCIP workers’ compensation members, both of which have been slowly implementing telemedicine over the last several years.  With infrastructure and experience, both were able to quickly adjust to meet the needs of injured workers and employers when the COVID-19 crisis began.

KPOJ’s telemedicine was less than 5% of its care provided in 2019.  This has increased to 40% so far in 2020, with some months reaching as high as 90%.  Concentra has seen a 500% increase in occupational telemedicine visits since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, allowing 10 times the typical visit volume on peak days.

The telemedicine trend isn’t isolated to these two providers. Prior to the pandemic, many ASCIP  members’ clinics offered no telemedicine.  Today, most clinics provide some form of telemedicine.

So what does this mean for injured workers?  Those who are uncertain or fearful about going into a   medical setting during the pandemic can receive care while sheltering in place.   Renee McGuire,  Risk Management Technician for Anaheim Elementary School District states “I am thankful that our frontline clinics provide telemedicine. It has been a monumental service during the pandemic crisis allowing our injured employees continued access to medical care and treatment.  Telemedicine offers several advantages including reduced wait times, reduced lost time from work, and increased access to care.

Not only does telemedicine benefit injured workers,  there are advantages for employers as well, including Return to work issues are addressed quickly; reduces delays in care allowing claims to move towards a quicker conclusion, and overall,  claim costs tend to be lower.

The Times They Are A-Changin’ ”,  whether it be telecommuting, distance learning, video conferencing, leveraging technology, or telemedicine.  We are learning new, effective ways that are much different from what was the norm less than six months ago and we have proven that we can adapt and embrace these changes.  Telemedicine is just one of these changes offering a convenient and effective alternative to the traditional model of medical care.

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