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February 3, 2015

To Bundle or Not to Bundle?

Summary:

Risk managers historically bought services separately, but developments -- mostly technology -- should prompt a new look at bundles.

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To purchase services on a bundled or unbundled basis is a question that risk managers have debated for many years. In the past, conventional thinking among many risk professionals was to purchase services from distinct service providers. This decision was typically based on which vendors were perceived to offer the highest quality or lowest-priced services.

In recent years, however, there appears to have been a shift in thinking, as bundled programs have become more popular. Technology advancements are helping drive this change. In large part, this is because of the improved efficiencies and outcomes that a packaged program can provide.

Examining the process will underscore the benefits that bundled services offer. However, no two programs are alike, and customization must continue to be part of the discussion for any employer.

The bundled approach
As businesses strive for increased savings and productivity, services such as clinical consultation, pharmacy management, provider selection and bill review are more commonly sought from a single services provider and integrated into the overall claims management process. Robust technology systems tie these service components together and provide risk managers with comprehensive access to complete and real-time information like never before. All professionals managing the injury make better, more informed decisions and ultimately improve outcomes.

Clinical consultation
When a workers’ compensation injury occurs, early response and appropriate treatment are critical. Integrating clinical consultation services ensures that an injured worker talks with a nurse by telephone shortly after an incident occurs. The two parties discuss the injury and related symptoms along with other health conditions that might affect the injury and recovery process.

Using his medical knowledge, the nurse can then discuss recommended treatment options. Depending on the severity of the injury, this can range from self-care to an occupational clinic visit to emergency room treatment. One of the key advantages to this approach is that it removes recommended treatment input from the manager or supervisor.

Provider selection
In a well-designed program, the nurse will have access to a listing of prequalified medical providers. These providers will have been selected based on a demonstrated ability to deliver desired outcomes on a consistent basis.

The providers also will have shown that they understand the workers’ compensation system and employer expectations. This contributes greatly to return-to-work initiatives. Quantifiable physician rating programs are preferred over an expansive listing of physicians who have been selected solely based on their willingness to negotiate price.

Pharmacy management
Management of prescription drug costs can also be part of a bundled services package. Most successful programs will employ injury-specific formularies. These are listings of drugs approved for certain types of injuries or conditions. Given today’s increased use of opioids in treating work-related injuries, these custom formularies can be a valuable asset in preventing unnecessary or extended use of such powerful narcotics.

A pharmacy management program can be structured so that a claims examiner receives an alert if a particular drug is prescribed or requested. The examiner can then place a call to the physician or pharmacist to see if there are alternative drugs available. Often, unnecessary or inappropriate drugs can be blocked at the point of sale.

The use of network pharmacies can also add value. These pharmacies are selected based on quality, price and an understanding of program expectations. Drugs here are much preferred and often less expensive than prescriptions obtained from a physician’s office.

Network pharmacists also understand the value of generic drugs versus brand name prescriptions and recommend these when appropriate. They are available to educate injured workers about the benefits or risks associated with any given drug.

Bill review
Bill review is becoming more commonly purchased as part of a bundled program. An effective bill review program goes beyond applying fee schedules and physician provider organization (PPO) discounts and is really driven by how information is processed.

Bill review services seek all possible reductions on every bill. Accurate coding should be applied throughout the process, and it should reflect the lowest possible allowance for any code and provider. Additional savings are then typically charged as a percentage of savings. The more discounts obtained early on, the lower the service fee will be.

Technology
Technology has really increased the attractiveness of bundled service programs. Detailed and immediate information empowers professionals to make sound decisions and take steps to move a claim toward closure and return an injured employee to work more readily than ever before.

As an example, when a clinical consultation nurse and claims adjuster share a single technology system, appropriate notes can be exchanged seamlessly and early details can be accessed that may later affect the case. Such a system also allows for a complete and up-to-date listing of prequalified medical providers and injury-specific drug formularies to be easily updated and maintained. This information is essential when an injured worker is seeking initial medical treatment or a claims adjuster is monitoring prescribed drugs. Also, when participating physicians and pharmacies are on a single system, medical bills are easily accessed and reviews performed more readily.

Additionally, technology associated with these types of services can produce valuable data used to measure performance and identify trends. It is then possible to develop strategies to improve outcomes in care management and at the desk level based on quantifiable information. When services are bundled and one system ties them together, gaps in data are avoided.

Conclusion
Business trends will continue to evolve, as will debates over bundled versus unbundled services programs. However, today’s discussion is different than those in the past because of the advancement of technology and its resulting impact. Risk managers are looking to innovation to drive enhanced capabilities seeking improved efficiencies and effectiveness. Given the high stakes associated with increasing productivity and lowering costs, this debate is likely to intensify in the future, with technology adding zest to the conversation.

This article first appeared on WorkCompWire.

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About the Author

Christopher E. Mandel is senior vice president of strategic solutions for Sedgwick and director of the Sedgwick Institute. He pioneered the development of integrated risk management at USAA.

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