Telemedicine set for steady rise after pandemic: Experts

by Louise Esola

Telemedicine, cited in a recent survey as having had the largest impact on workers compensation during the COVID-19 pandemic, appears poised to keep growing even as states reopen, experts say.

San Diego-based comp technology company Mitchell International Inc. found in a recent survey of 100 claims professionals that 35% of workers compensation claims organizations that have implemented new technology during the COVID-19 pandemic say telemedicine is the technology that has had the largest effect on business. In early 2020, that figure stood at 32%.

“Telemedicine continues to emerge as a really strong trend in work comp,” said Rebecca Morgan, Kansas City, Missouri-based vice president of product management for Mitchell’s Casualty Solutions Group who headed the survey.

“There was a demand for a lot more telehealth services during the stay-at-home orders,” she said. “But that did come back down at the end of it when we began to open back up. Yet some of it has certainly stuck, and we do expect it to continue to grow.”

 

Entering the picture are numerous state proposals to clear red tape for providers of telemedicine and workers compensation.

For example, Texas on Monday introduced H.B. 3098 to permit the comp industry to conduct medical reviews using telemedicine. And lawmakers in Montana, Colorado, Arkansas and New Jersey have introduced legislation to better govern remote care.

Most states have implemented temporary changes since the pandemic began, and experts say they hope the rules — tackling such facets of health care as payments and referrals — will become permanent.

For example, California’s COVID-19 response to allow virtual independent medical exams, or IMEs, in workers comp has been a “game changer” that could lead to more changes in the future, said Mary Reaston, CEO, president and chief science officer of Emerge Diagnostics Inc., a Carlsbad, California-based company that provides remote diagnostics of soft-tissue muscle injuries.

“IMEs are backlogged now because physicians weren’t seeing people,” she said, adding that she hopes “objective telemedicine is the wave of the future.”

“States will get there,” said Ann Schnure, Cincinnati-based vice president of telemedicine operations for Concentra Inc., a provider of occupational health to injured workers.

Another driver for change is that “a lot of the fear of a telemedicine visit has gone away” for patients, she said.

“We are experiencing steady growth and adoption — not like it was (at the start of the pandemic) when people were doing it out of panic,” she said. But “all of this is here to stay,” she added.

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