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The Insurance Journal reports that the use of telemedicine may be in its nascent stages within the workers’ compensation system, but the starting line has definitely been crossed with employers and workers’ comp insurers embracing the ability to provide remote medical care to injured employees using the video technology embedded in smart phones, tablets and computers.

Dr. David, a managed care consultant, made those comments as moderator of a forum on telemedicine during the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute’s (WCRI) 35th Annual Issues and Research Conference held earlier this year.

There is a “paradigm shift” occurring in workers’ comp when it comes to telemedicine, according to Dr. Stephen Dawkins, medical director at Cadaceus USA, an Atlanta, Georgia-based provider of medical management services in occupational health, and a member of the WCRI telemedicine panel. That paradigm shift is a “huge thing that we’re all going through whether you are the patient, the employer, whatever the case may be.”

AF Group, the parent organization of a group of workers’ comp carriers that together provide coverage in all 50 U.S. states, took the plunge several years ago and began offering telemedicine services to its policyholders. The program has been well received, according to Dr. Dan Hunt, medical director for AF Group, who told Insurance Journal he expects the use of telemedicine will become “very standard within the workers’ compensation industry” in the coming years.

Similarly, Dr. Dinesh Govindarao, medical director at State Compensation Insurance Fund (SCIF) in California, which also offers policyholders a telemedicine option, said it’s likely the industry will see a surge within the next three to five years.

Kurt Leisure, vice president of Risk Services for California-based The Cheesecake Factory, said his company began experimenting with telemedicine for addressing workplace injuries in February 2018.

Speaking as a member of the WCRI panel on telemedicine, Leisure explained that his company, which has more than 40,000 staff members and 214 full-service restaurants in 41 states and Puerto Rico, as well as 18 restaurants licensed internationally, is still in the process of determining the effectiveness of its telemedicine program.

However, benefits for both the staff and the company are apparent, he said. For the injured employee, “there’s no waiting room, there’s no four-hour emergency waiting room; they have the option. They can either go to the emergency room or they [can take advantage] of the telemedicine program. They are the ones that decide.

Kim Haugaard, senior vice president of Policyholder Services at workers’ comp carrier, Texas Mutual Insurance Co., said some of his company’s concerns with telemedicine center on the practicality of how it is being “delivered to injured workers, such as: does the provider have the technical capabilities to effectively offer telemedicine? At what stage of an injury is telemedicine no longer appropriate and conventional evaluation and treatment being appropriate?”