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Whether separate legislation is needed for telemedicine in workers compensation seems to be open to debate.
No state has ever prohibited the use of telemedicine and all state medical boards have now approved its use, according to the Center for Connected Health Policy in Sacramento, California.
That has encouraged many third-party administrators to offer telemedicine in workers compensation programs.
Teresa Bartlett, senior vice president and senior medical officer for third-party administrator Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., said she sits on a state-level workers compensation committee in Michigan studying whether specific language is needed on telemedicine.
“There are Medicare guidelines related to telemedicine, and states are trying to decide if that language is sufficient,” she said. “At this point, it seems (the Michigan committee) is not seeing the need to develop separate language for workers compensation. I am sure many states are evaluating this and finding similar results. Only time will tell what approach they will ultimately take.
“One consideration may be fee schedule pricing of telemedicine,” Dr. Bartlett added. “If there is any legislation, it may focus on cost.”
Memphis, Tennessee-based Sedgwick has offered a 24/7 nurse triage phone center for injured workers since 2008 and began offering telemedicine services in summer 2017.
David Lupinsky, vice president of medical review services for Irvine, California-based third-party administrator CorVel Corp., said the company launched a workers compensation telemedicine program in 2015 and has had 3,000 virtual medical visits since then.
“The number of visits per month seems to be on an exponential growth rate,” he said.
Mr. Lupinsky would like legislation that creates a “gold standard” for telemedicine practices, but payment parity laws may be less important, he said.
“I always look at reimbursement. Even if it’s not handled legislatively, the market will set the rate,” he said. “But if states are going to have fee schedules (for telemedicine), they should have it for workers compensation, too.”
The use of telemedicine continues to grow as the medical community, the public and insurers see the potential benefits of virtual medical visits to speed treatment, control costs and simplify follow-up care, but legislation and regulation facilitating its use to treat injured workers has been slow to emerge.