The aging workforce has been identified as a risk to workers’ compensation medical claims, primarily because older populations sometimes require more complex treatment, which can mean higher medical costs and increased compensable time. Recognizing that older workers are highly valued for their experience and good judgment, there is good evidence to support the notion that age is an important factor in determining the best course of treatment for an injured worker.
But this is not the only age-related risk to consider. The people that we rely on for care – physicians, nurses, and other health professionals, as well as those in the insurance industry who help to foster that care – are also getting older, which poses health risks to injured workers of all ages.
Over 50% of U.S. physicians are over the age of 50 and one third will be over the age of 65 in the next decade. The average nurse age is now 51 and both physicians and nurses are leaving the profession faster than they can be replaced. A shortage of physicians will likely result in higher fees and longer wait times, which could lead to compromised care for patients.
The risks of higher costs and suboptimal care exists in all of healthcare, of course, but the threat is greater in worker’s comp due to:
- A highly regulated environment with stringent requirements for provider qualifications, timely access to care, and patient choice
- Delayed ability to mitigate physician shortages through technological innovations due to reimbursement issues and outdated workers’ comp legislation
- Severe shortage of occupational medicine physicians
- Increased care complexity due to high pain management needs
- Longer claim durations and delayed return-to-work times resulting from increased wait times
- Severe provider shortages in rural areas that already pose coverage challenges
Some efforts are being made to address physician shortages and modify workers’ compensation laws to keep up with the changing healthcare landscape. For example, California recently spent nearly $70 million to pay off student loans for doctors whose practice includes at least 40 % MediCal patients.
Any positive measures to address physician shortages and/or mitigate its consequences for workers’ comp are welcome. Unfortunately, even if all 50 states took aggressive action, the remedies could not be realized quickly enough to forestall the impending issues.
The risks posed by an aging workforce combined with a shortage of healthcare providers should be addressed sooner rather than later, and workers’ comp payers can take some proactive steps now, including:
- Working closely with key providers to improve access to the resources and tools they need to support the injured worker’s recovery
- Using data analytics to assess injured worker populations and identify at-risk patients for early intervention and assistance
- Utilizing pharmacists for clinical oversight and intervention programs to assist patients and fill gaps between provider appointments
- Investing in patient engagement and wellness programs to empower patients with the right knowledge and tools to aid their own recovery and prevent unnecessary complications
For more tips and additional details on the pending physician shortage and the risks to your patient population, read:
When Demand Exceed Supply: Older patients and fewer physicians in workers’ comp.
This is a sponsored post from WorkCompWire marketing partner Healthesystems.