By Nina Smith, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Casualty Solutions, Mitchell
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of being able to adapt. It’s been about 19 months now since COVID-19 was first declared a national emergency in the U.S. Within this span of time, our industry has had to adapt to a plethora of challenges – everything from remote work, shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE), disruptions in care, and attempts to keep each other safe with social distancing, masks, and vaccinations.
Throughout the pandemic, I stayed in close touch with many customers in the workers’ compensation industry. Over the years, they’ve become colleagues as well as friends. In our conversations, we shared best practices on how we were coping in our new COVID world. I heard firsthand about their struggles to manage a level of change never before experienced. We discussed everything from revamping policies around their people, procedures, and systems, all while doing their best to carry out their usual business objectives.
Our company faced similar challenges and made comparable shifts to adapt, but we were also dealing with one change specific to our organization: we were striving to bring three companies – Mitchell, Genex, and Coventry – together to better serve the needs of our customers, particularly during these difficult times. And with any merger or acquisition, adaptability is key.
It’s an attribute I’ve personally come to live and breathe as a woman executive who’s sustained a lengthy career in industry. From the very beginning, I served in a customer-facing role and, today, I’m always the first to share the importance of the customer being at the center of everything we do. In that sense, I’m a customer fanatic. It’s what gets me excited to come to work every day, knowing the amazing things our organization and industry are doing to ensure quality care for injured employees, while simultaneously containing costs for programs. In this article, I’ll reflect on the ways we listened to customers during COVID-19, and how we came to understand and respond to the unique demands during this crisis.
Listening to our customers
Listening is an essential characteristic for me. I believe a customer-centric organization should constantly listen and seek input and insight from customers. We have our traditional sources of customer feedback, such as our annual customer conference and customer experience survey. In particular, the surveys we performed in 2020 and 2021 helped us understand how customers were fairing in response to the pandemic and how we could help them navigate forward. We also continually obtain insights from our customer advisory council in regard to our technology roadmap, leveraging our combined data assets and other innovative ideas that can be applied to the work comp claims ecosystem.
But a lot of our listening occurs with our customer-facing and product teams. They continue to reach out and engage with customers throughout the pandemic. Through these touch points, we were able to glean their top concerns. Then, across our three companies, we brought our combined expertise to bear on these challenges. Sharing best practices with customers has been crucial, especially since COVID has continued to be a moving target in terms of workers’ comp coverage, access to care, employee safety, and public health.
Coming together to help customers adapt to the challenges of COVID-19
From these various levels of listening and information gathering, we heard four resounding concerns voiced by customers, and our companies responded accordingly:
1. If employees are injured during the pandemic, how can we continue to get them the best care possible?
Initially, the industry as a whole struggled to understand how COVID‑19 would affect the provision of care for injured employees. We saw hospitals and doctors’ offices begin to restrict access, either shutting down completely or limiting access to facilities. Working with these constraints, we continued to help customers push claims forward. For example, we proactively released clinical guidelines for COVID-19, so case managers would know how to handle these cases, as well as how to offer clinical support during the pandemic.
Our provider networks also had to evolve – whether that was to expand access to telemedicine or engage specialists, such as pulmonologists and infectious disease experts. By leveraging analytics, we garnered insights to further fine-tune our provider networks for COVID times. The process was driven by a desire to help customers achieve cost savings, geographic coverage, and access to the right doctors.
2. COVID-19 brought about significant regulatory changes; how do we keep up?
As our industry coped with COVID-19, many states took emergency legislative and regulatory actions to address workers’ comp issues, such as new presumption laws, deferral of nonurgent care, modifications to how prescriptions could be filled, and expanded access to telemedicine. In addition, there were ongoing regulatory changes that happened regardless of COVID-19, including continued efforts to legalize marijuana, fee schedule changes, and updates around Medicare Set-Asides. Each step of the way, our experts offered guidance and, as we look to the future, we’ll continue to keep claims organizations, providers, and other stakeholders abreast of jurisdictional changes.
3. How can we help injured employees – pressured with many new stressors – achieve balance and mental health?
Customers were also concerned about their employees’ mental health – as they were dealing with so many new stressors brought on by the pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, more adults were experiencing mental illness than ever before, and the virus only accelerated this trend.
Certainly, mental health challenges affect an injured employee’s recovery process. As such, our experts united to launch a mental health e-book, “Strategies for Combating Mental Health Challenges for Injured Employees.” This resource covered various topics, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and other factors pointing to a broken spirit.
Finding the right provider is also a critical first step. In this regard, we continued to bolster our behavioral health specialty network to incorporate the right mental health specialists.
We also ensured that our case managers could properly assess injured employees for biopsychosocial issues. For example, one of our 2021 Heart of Case Management Award winners was recognized for assisting an injured employee who lost her independence and ability to work. The employee suffered mental anguish in coping with these life changes, particularly during COVID. Recognizing these issues, the case manager advocated for the employee’s medical and mental health needs. As a result, the injured employee’s recovery improved. She regained her self-confidence and her motivation to return to work.
4. As the true financial impact of COVID-19 comes to light, how can we continue to contain costs?
COVID-19 also dealt a financial blow to many companies. As such, customers need help controlling costs more than ever. This is where our companies’ cumulative years of experience revealed its impact. We collaborated to tightly contain every aspect of a client’s medical and pharmacy spend. We ensured adherence to medical fee schedules, customary and reasonable fees, and provider network discounts to ensure optimal savings. We leveraged drug formularies and other prescription management strategies to tamp down on pharmacy costs. Case managers also worked to align treatment plans with clinical guidelines to ensure quality care, which also resulted in savings.
Also instrumental has been the fact that all of these processes are driven by a sophisticated technology platform that supports each customer’s unique bill review and medical management processes, as well as offering reports that demonstrate ongoing value and performance.
What’s next: continue to listen to and partner with our customers
One thing I realized during the pandemic was we’re all in this together. Not only are we dealing with similar issues related to COVID-19, but by sharing best practices we’re also helping to solidify solutions and value for the entire industry. When customers came to me and shared their stories, it was exciting because they were essentially saying, how can we work together to solve these challenges?
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the pandemic has served as a catalyst to bring our companies – Mitchell, Genex, and Coventry – together in a more accelerated manner to solve these challenges with expertise from across all our companies. It has been a true collaboration and what we brought forth was a depth of expertise applied to a common focus: our customers’ needs. We will continue to listen to our customers who serve as our guides and partners each step of the way.
About Nina Smith
Nina Smith is Executive Vice President and General Manager of Mitchell International’s Casualty Solutions. In this position, Nina leads the Company’s Auto Casualty Solutions and Workers’ Compensation Solutions divisions, overseeing an organization dedicated to bringing process improvement, greater efficiencies, and lower costs to customers while pioneering new standards and benchmarks in the casualty market. As a passionate, customer-centric business executive, Nina brings to Mitchell over 25 years of focused leadership in bringing client satisfaction and operational excellence to the technology sector. In addition, Nina is an active community and industry member who previously served on the board of the Alliance for Women in Workers’ Compensation. In 2017, Athena San Diego recognized Nina with their annual “Individual in Technology” award due to her commitment to the advancement of women in technology.
Prior to joining Mitchell, Nina served as a Division President of Sage Software North America, a leader in business management solutions. Nina also served in multiple roles at Xerox Corp. where she rose from Product Marketing Manager to Vice President/General Manager, ultimately serving as Chief Marketing Officer. Nina holds a Bachelor of Arts, Management, from the University of Redlands.
About Mitchell International
Headquartered in San Diego, Calif., Mitchell International, Inc. delivers smart technology solutions and services to the auto insurance, collision repair, disability and workers’ compensation markets. Through deep industry expertise, connections throughout the insurance ecosystem and advanced technology such as artificial intelligence, extended reality and cloud-based solutions, Mitchell enables its customers and clients to succeed in today’s ever-changing environment. Each month, Mitchell processes tens of millions of transactions for more than 300 insurance providers, 20,000 collision repair facilities and 70,000 pharmacies. Its comprehensive solution and service portfolio empowers clients to restore lives after a challenging event.
Mitchell, Genex and Coventry have recently aligned their joint industry expertise and advanced technology solutions into a combined organization of more than 5,600 associates committed to simplifying and optimizing property, casualty and disability claims processes and services.
Mitchell is a WorkCompWire ad partner.
This is NOT a paid placement.