By Mark Pew, Senior VP, Preferred Medical
COVID-19 has obviously had a dramatic impact on our country – in fact, the entire planet. It seemingly has touched every aspect of every person’s life and livelihood, some more than others. The trickledown effect has been something unimaginable even for “black swan” scenarios.
While much of the impact has been negative, there have been changes that will become positive as we evolve into whatever the “new normal” will be. The human race is resilient; our ancestors have constantly had to make lemonade out of lemons. Even though 2020 has been a gigantic lemon, we shall do the same.
So after reading and watching trends for the past 5+ months, I pulled out my crystal ball to see what the future looks like for workers’ compensation and I noticed a bunch of “mores”:
While an overall decrease in the number of work comp claims has been underway for several years, COVID-19 has hastened that process due to historically high unemployment forced by a nationwide shutdown. Given less claims and less claims activity, carriers and TPAs and service providers have all had less to do, and in some cases decided to furlough employees (some permanently). As the economy reopens, much of that claims activity will return. That means an increase in automation, so more can be done with less, is one of the keys to survival.
This was coming long before COVID-19 since younger generation expectations for on-demand access to information doesn’t wait for a claims adjuster to call them back tomorrow. Self-service apps, bots and websites with real-time claims information (current status on treatment decisions or when TTD or mileage reimbursement checks have been sent, for example), interactive correspondence (texts and instant messaging on portals beat e-Mails and voicemails) and a library of educational videos will be increasingly rolled out. Not only is this valuable real-time information for the injured worker and provider but it also enables the integration of business rules through AI (artificial intelligence) for more consistency. Pull vs. Push interaction will increasingly side on the former.
Work from home has been successful by maintaining or even increasing productivity and encouraging more work / life balance (important to the younger generation … and … everybody). However, the isolation that comes from that is not as easy to manage and requires a heavier focus on people management and engagement (Zoom, as a verb, will likely be the word of the year). The net result is that many people forced home by shelter-in-place will remain at home. That has implications for how a business is run, how sales is conducted, the viability of conferences, business travel, real estate (i.e. empty offices that won’t have tenants) and manifold other “status quo” changers. Whatever business looked like in February 2019 is not what it will look like into the future.
That certainly seems like a no-brainer based on our collective personal experience during COVID-19. But the statistics bear out the trend. FAIR Health found that the use of telehealth increased by 4,347% from March 2019 to March 2020. CMS has already confirmed that the relaxation of regulations on telehealth for Medicare and Medicaid will likely become permanent and many states / work comp systems will probably follow that trend. The integration of data from wearables for compliance and monitoring will accentuate the value. While telemedicine will never completely replace in-person visits for some conditions / treatments, it will come close to that for others largely because of consumer demand. The key to its prominence will be statistics, likely published late 2020 / early 2021, that compares clinical outcomes between telemedicine and in-person during COVID-19. Unless there is a sizable negative difference – not likely – all indications are the switch in many areas will be permanent. Convenience and access will be king.
Given the significant impact from unemployment, permanent business closures, and lack of human contact with at-risk people, the U.S. (and, frankly, the entire world) is getting a reintroduction to the importance of mental health and how quickly it can fade away even for those most resilient. That has been true in work comp, whether for employees of service providers thrust into a virtual environment (along with their “student” children) or for injured workers that had gaps in care when “non-essential” medical treatment was outlawed by state and local governments. The importance of an advocacy model (that includes a BioPsychoSocialSpiritual treatment model) has been increasingly recognized over the past few years. However, it has now become personal, and that will drive faster adoption. An advocacy model that focuses on the whole-person (including mental health) is not just a nice-to-have but a requirement and expectation.
Of course, I could be wrong about all of this. Others will certainly have different opinions. And there are more mores (and as many lesses). But anyone who thinks life will return to how it was pre-COVID has not been paying attention. Evolve or die.
To read everything on my mind this past week, please visit me on LinkedIn.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed above are those of Mark Pew, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Preferred Medical.
About Mark Pew
Mark Pew, Senior Vice President of Product Development and Marketing for Preferred Medical, is a passionate educator and agitator. Known as the RxProfessor, Mark is focused on the intersection of chronic pain and appropriate treatment, particularly as it relates to the clinical and financial implications of prescription painkillers, non-pharma treatment modalities and the evolution of medical marijuana. He is a strong champion for the workers’ compensation industry to #PreventTheMess and #CleanUpTheMess, movements he created to drive attention to the importance of individualized appropriate treatment for injured workers. Mark is a vocal advocate of the BioPsychoSocialSpiritual treatment model.
Mark serves on the IAIABC’s Medical Issues Committee and SIIA’s Workers’ Compensation Committee. In addition, he serves as technical advisor to regulators and legislators in 20+ jurisdictions on subjects such as drug formularies, treatment guidelines, Opioid Task Force initiatives, encouraging support of non-pharma treatment options and the medicinal use of cannabis. Mark received the WorkCompCentral Magna Comp Laude award in 2016 and the IAIABC’s Samuel Gompers Award in 2017.