Third-party administrators are using mobile technology to put workers compensation claims information in the hands of injured workers to improve their engagement in the claims process and avoid potential litigation over injuries.
While TPAs are now moving to adapt to the digital habits of younger workers and newer digital tools, widespread use of their mobile apps by injured workers won't occur for several years, experts say.
Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., Gallagher Bassett Services Inc., CorVel Corp. and Broadspire Services Inc. have released mobile applications or mobile websites that provide injured workers access at any time to information about their claims and help them contact claims adjusters.
The goal, experts say, is to enable claims professionals to develop a rapport with workers who require additional support to get back on the job.
“As folks are now coming into the workforce, especially younger, new college grads, (using mobile technology is) how they've grown up,” said John Jakovcic, Atlanta-based vice president of technology at Broadspire's medical management and risk sciences group. “If you're not giving them what they're used to ... you're behind the times.”
Mr. Jakovcic said Broadspire's mobile site, My Claim, like its My Claim website, gives injured employees a “real-time view” of claim payment information.
Sedgwick rolled out its viaOne app last summer on Apple and Android devices. The app allows injured workers to check the status of their claims, view payment history, submit questions, and receive alerts via emails, text messages or automated phone calls, said Jarrod Magan, Memphis, Tennessee-based vice president of client technology services at Sedgwick.
“For that segment of the claimant population that feels disconnected from the process, they can actually now, at any time of day, see what's going on with their claim,” Mr. Magan said. “The thought is then that they'll be less likely to go out and seek attorney representation.”
Simultaneously, personal injury attorneys are developing similar technology for workers comp claimants, said intellectual property lawyer Aaron Tantleff, a partner at Foley & Lardner L.L.P. in Chicago. The mobile apps attorneys are using to connect with injured workers could have the opposite effect of the apps TPAs are developing.
“The idea there is that someone could say, "I'm going to document my own workplace injury in this app, hit submit and get a free consult” from a lawyer on possibly suing, Mr. Tantleff said.
One workers compensation consultant was encouraged that TPAs are developing mobile apps, but said that the quality of communication with injured workers is more important than the mode of that communication.
“The engagement issue is much more about how the employer and the insurance company communicate with the injured worker ... in terms of the words they use and the tone they use and how proactive they are, rather than the vehicle they use to communicate with,” said Joseph Paduda, principal of Madison, Connecticut-based Health Strategy Associates.
While Gallagher Bassett's information management website, MyGBClaim.com, is accessible to claimants on mobile devices, it's not formatted for a smaller screen, said Gary T. Anderberg, New Hope, Pennsylvania-based senior vice president of claim analytics. The TPA is developing an app for injured workers and claim adjusters to give users timely responses and more human interaction.
“We have no intentions of replacing adjusters with machines,” Mr. Anderberg said.
He said it's important to keep the claimant experience consistent across all communication platforms so an injured worker with access to only to a telephone gets the same service as those with smartphones.
Mobile TPA apps have potential to reach a large segment of the population. A January report by the Pew Research Center showed that 90% of U.S. adults have a cellphone, 58% have a smartphone and 42% have a tablet. However, Mr. Paduda said blue-collar workers are less likely to have smartphones and more likely to get injured on the job.
Still, Mr. Paduda said he's glad to see the “slow-growing, static, difficult-to-change (workers comp) industry” adopting the latest technology to help claims adjusters and employers do their jobs.
“There are applications out there that allow supervisors to do incident reports on smartphones, which makes a lot of sense,” Mr. Paduda said. “You can take a picture of the broken arm, you can take a picture of the machine, and you're good to go. ... If you're going to invest time and energy into electronic communications to help workers comp, that's where it makes a lot of sense.”
Reducing lag time is the basis for CorVel Corp.'s Claim Intake app, which allows users to report workplace injuries from any location, said Heather Burnham, vice president of marketing at the Irvine, California, company.
App development in various areas of the workers comp claims process provide tools that at times makes the process a bit easier, said Joe Picone, an Glen Allen, Va.-based claim consulting practice leader at Willis North America Inc.
“There still isn't widespread use,” Mr. Picone said. “That will change in the next five to 10 years.”
What's more, such apps in the workers comp industry could raise privacy concerns, said Eric Proser, Atlanta-based partner and workers compensation head at law firm Constangy, Brooks & Smith L.L.P.
“There are risks every time you use the Internet to transmit any health information,” Mr. Proser said.