New technologies are improving workers compensation programs in everything from communications and training to health care delivery and claims, according to experts.

Tom Ryan, market research leader for Marsh’s Workers Compensation Center of Excellence, speaking during a recent Marsh broadcast, identified several areas of workers compensation that can benefit from technology:

  • In communications with employees. Information critical to prevent injuries and claim updates can be provided to employees via smartphone mobile applications.
  • In sharing workforce training via an employer’s intranet or through smartphone applications.
  • In delivering care to injured workers through telemedicine and via mobile apps that can direct injured workers to preferred medical providers.
  • In managing claims by providing customizable email alerts, such as notifications when prescriptions are ready.

Wearable technology is also having an impact. Wearables can monitor employee movements and alert co-workers of danger, as well as monitor fatigue, body temperature and repetitive motion. The information can be used in training, fraud prevention and wellness programs, Ryan said.

Construction industry wearables include high-tech vests and helmets that have lights or vibrate to alert employees of potentially dangerous changes in surroundings.

The use of telemedicine has resulted in higher network penetration, lower claims severity and lower claims costs at Bank of America.

Some firms are equipping forklifts to sound an alarm or flash lights to warn employees and the public. Many pieces of equipment require both hands to operate and can be fitted with vibrating sensors to alert the operators to changes in their surroundings.

Joseph Molloy, vice president of workforce safety at Northwell Health, offered a case example of improvements his firm realized after it created a centralized workforce safety department and revamped its employee injury reporting system.

Previously, injuries were reported to different parts of the company. He said employees were confused throughout the life of an injury on whom to report to and what to report. Completion of forms by employees was inconsistent, he said, and penmanship was an issue. For example, asking where an accident occurred resulted in answers that ranged from an address to a building floor to a hospital.

Molloy said Northwell used technology to improve its incident reporting rate. The company added automated forms and connected employee data so that the forms could be partially prefilled. It also added multiple ways to report an incident, including a mobile app and an 800-number. Completed employee reports of injury were then sent to the supervisor, safety officer, human resources, Broadspire (its third-party claims administrator) and to its workforce safety department that triages cases to determine potential nurse case management opportunities.

According to Molloy, the new system has resulted in more employees being placed in transitional return-to-work assignments and a positive response from employees.

Molloy said the keys to success when implementing these types of changes include engaging senior leadership and sharing the mission’s method and rationale for the change.

Donna Sides, senior insurance manager and workers compensation supervisor with Bank of America, offered another case study showing how technology can improve workers compensation programs.

Bank of America implemented a telenursing program for insured employees. This included a dedicated 24/7 reporting line that allowed injured workers to speak to a registered nurse and directly report a claim.

The nurse assesses the medical history, injury, pain level, obtains an accident description and offers a first aid treatment recommendation. If additional treatment is warranted, the nurse will direct employees to an in-network provider where allowed and then schedule the appointment. Call notes are uploaded to the Bank of America claims system and are viewable by adjusters.

Sides said the use of telemedicine at Bank of America has resulted in higher network penetration, lower claims severity and lower claims costs.

According to David Lupinsky, vice president at CorVel Corp., telehealth was originally created to bring health care to rural areas. Now it brings health care to employees and allows employers the ability to create virtual clinics, which drives greater productivity. Telehealth also removes the need for a larger provider network, he said.

Lupinsky said telehealth is a viable option for employers of all sizes, meaning they no longer need to make a large investment in onsite clinics. While it is not for every case, telehealth can take care of 40 percent of claims, he said.