March 21, 2018

Chris Walsh: Workers’ Compensation: “Got an App for That?”

By J. Christopher Walsh, Principal at Arlington Associates, Inc.

Chris WalshOnce again our national headlines are filled with articles detailing the meteoric rise and fall of various software and hardware companies. The stories have a plot line similar to those we read during the Internet boom of the 1990s. While many people have followed the decline of industry giants such as IBM, Dell, and Compaq, and the rise of Google, app stores, and mobile devices, not enough thought has been given to the larger implications of how these events profoundly alter the ways companies can communicate with their customers.

With Moore’s Law still in effect, it’s vital to recognize how swift and disruptive digital change has been. In the early 1980s, IBM’s PC broke the mainframe and mini-computer monopoly and within a few years was in millions of small businesses and homes across the country. A dozen years later, the Internet’s widespread arrival changed everything, igniting a personal and business communication revolution and the Dot-Com Boom.

A far less recognized milestone commenced in earnest five years ago with the introduction of the iPhone and iPad. As millions of individuals and thousands of companies moved away from traditional desktop and even laptop computers, smartphones and tablets quickly have become the “computer” of choice.

The numbers are compelling. Today’s smart phone has the same processing capacity as the average 2005 corporate desktop. Of the 250 million people in this country over the age of 14, 235 million use mobile devices. In 2012, annual consumer computer sales decreased for the first time in over a decade. In 2010, mobile processing power surpassed that of desktop and laptops combined.

The mobile revolution isn’t coming; it’s here… and companies ignoring it do so at the risk of their very existence.

The seismic shift in hardware, operating systems, and portability has radically changed the way comp carriers, TPAs, medical providers, vendors, and claimants can and should be interacting. Mobile technical challenges are significant, but so is the opportunity to increase efficiency and market share.

IT staff trained to support corporate servers, desktop computers, websites, and B2B portals now have to maintain mobile hardware and new operating systems. What was largely a Windows universe has expanded to include Windows Mobile, iOS, Android, and even BlackBerry OS10. A screen that looks good and works well on a 23-inch monitor or even a 13-inch laptop needs a totally different configuration to run on a 5-inch phone and or 7-inch tablet. Open Wi-Fi networks, non-secure browsers, cloud storage of sensitive data, and shared mobile password access are just a few of the new realities keeping IT managers up at night.

Once the technical hurdles have been evaluated, managers need to fully appreciate what mobile technology can offer the key workers’ comp system parties. A familiar scenario: An employee suffers a work related injury. Shortly thereafter, they receive a text from their employer’s carrier or TPA acknowledging the injury and providing a link to download a smartphone application. The app provides links, resources, and services to simplify and speed claim processing. From the very beginning, the injured employee knows where to direct his or her questions or concerns.

At each stage of the claim, the app provides additional resources… sign up for direct deposit or debit card payment, send your adjuster a verbal note, a picture, or submit documents using the phone’s camera, or even communicate in a language other than English and have your message translated? The application delivers all this and more in a new and exciting way.

If additional medical treatment is needed, the app maps out provider locations and provides website links, phone numbers, and appointment scheduling… a traditional online provider directory now enhanced and personalized.

The app accurately configures itself based on the device and its operating system and ensures software and hardware security is in place to support its transactions. Smartphone push technology instantaneously allows adjusters to alert claimants to critical events such as payments, claim status changes, etc. in a far more secure and timely way than email, voicemail, or certainly postal mail.

As the app largely eliminates paper communication, carriers and TPAs have much more comprehensive, timely, and auditable data to review claims and make process improvements where needed. The app data also creates a far richer database for refining expert systems and predictive modeling, another critical area deserving of its own column.

Understandably, workers’ compensation companies will have different appetites for taking on mobile devices. For those who have embraced the Internet, imaging, customer websites, and EDI, mobile apps are a very logical and doable next step. For those who haven’t, the essential road to mobile integration will be bumpier and longer.

A decade ago, two online search engine companies emerged as market leaders. The better known of the two built its business through enhanced news and business content going head to head with established TV, radio, and print media companies.

The second chose another path. They aggressively developed or acquired applications (email, video and photo editors, mapping software, online data storage, translation capabilities… to name a few) to strengthen their search. Their free software was accessible through the company’s now very familiar and simple to use home page.

You might have guessed the first company is Yahoo and the second Google. The latter faces enormous challenges continuing its stratospheric growth and innovation while the former is enjoying a resurgence under a new CEO. Perhaps Google and Yahoo will become more equal competitors in the future.

Until that happens, when we search online, we still “Google” it.

About Chris Walsh
Chris Walsh has over 20 years experience successfully designing, selling, and implementing managed health care programs. Prior to re-joining Arlington Associates, Inc. in April 2009, he spent 15 years as a Sales VP at Coventry Workers’ Comp Services and CorVel Corporation. His clients included three of the country’s top five largest casualty insurance carriers, large self insured employers, state funds, state, county, and city governments, software vendors, and a number of national managed care companies. In the early 1990′s Walsh founded AAI, during which time AAI clients included HMOs, PPOs, health care software vendors, and managed care service providers. Prior to AAI, he held sales and client management positions with HCX, Inc., American International Healthcare, Inc./JBI, and General Health, Inc. Walsh has a Health Management MS from American University and a BA from Georgetown University.

About Arlington Associates, Inc.
AAIArlington Associates, Inc. (AAI) is a brokerage and consulting company specializing in premium managed health care software and services. AAI clients receive dynamic strategic and sales support across a broad array of group health, workers’ compensation, and auto insurance areas.
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