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June 27, 2014

Research That Predicts Claim Risk

Summary:

Industry research is invaluable. Leverage the work of serious researchers rather than engaging in pricy statistical modeling.

WCRI (Workers’ Compensation Research Institute) recently released a report identifying predictors of injured worker outcomes. While the report reflects only a few states, the information can logically be extrapolated to other areas. When seeking answers in medical management, the issues remain fundamentally constant regardless of location because they are medical, not jurisdictional.

“Better information about the predictors of poorer worker outcomes may allow payors and doctors to better target health care and return-to-work interventions to those at risk,” stated Dr. Richard Victor, WCRI executive director.

Moreover, data systems can search for the predictors in claims so that appropriate attention is focused on them from the beginning, mitigating the damage.

Preventive communication

Having said that, the first predictor of poor outcomes identified in the WCRI study will not be found in the data. WCRI found that, when injured workers are strongly concerned about being fired after the injury, outcomes will be poor. Managing worker understanding is an employer risk management issue, one that can best be handled with good communication.

Contacting injured workers early and continually with reassurances of continued employment will drive best results. Moreover, the approach is easy and costs nothing.

Other risks identified in the study require a different approach.

Comorbidity risk

WCRI research identified three comorbidities of concern: hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. When these comorbidities are combined with a workplace injury, the result is longer durations of disability. Workers with heart disease had disability durations four weeks longer than those without heart disease. Those with hypertension and diabetes exhibited 3% and 4% higher rates of not working three years after their injury.

Comorbidity risk is a generally known truth, gained either logically or through experience. I call it corporate wisdom. The study validates the theory.

Monitor ICD-9s

Search for these and other conditions in claims by monitoring the data continuously. Each condition has a set of ICD-9s (International Classification of Disease) for the disease. ICD-9s appear on medical bills, so a continuous search for them in the bill review or claims systems is reasonable. Moreover, the search can be extended to other comorbidities.

Other risky comorbidities

Other comorbidities have been identified through industry research as complicating injury recovery and generating poorer outcomes. Search Google to find specific diseases or to find a myriad of studies that bear this out. Such studies are proof of the notion that when certain diseases are coupled with workplace injuries, outcomes are poorer, disability durations are longer and costs are higher. Examples of search requests are, “Opioids in Workers’ Compensation” or “Obesity in Workers’ Compensation.”

Use a search engine to find industry studies regarding other comorbidities such as specific mental health conditions like stress or depression. The research provides an argument for actively managing claims where the comorbidities exist.

Opportunity gain

Industry research is invaluable. Leverage the work of serious researchers rather than engaging in pricy statistical modeling. Statistical modeling uses advanced mathematical methods to identify high risk claims. Still, an affordable alternative method is available.

Customize for the organization

To learn the comorbidities of most concern to an organization, do a query of the highest-cost claims in the data over the past few years. List the diagnoses in those claims and identify the comorbidities most commonly associated with them. Then look for industry research on those diagnoses to establish rationale for implementing the monitoring and intervention procedures.

‘Coattail’ to predict

If statistical modeling is not within practical reach, “coattailing” on industry research is a viable alternative. Determine the highest-risk comorbidities within the organization, search the research and begin monitoring the data to find claims where they occur.

Monitoring the data allows for a proactive approach by tagging claims at risk soon after injury, thereby modulating the damage.

Plan of action

Establish standard medical management processes for responding when identified comorbidities or other high-risk diagnoses appear in a claim. Identifying claims that portend risk, whether from comorbidities or anything else, is a cost-savings measure only if an action plan is in place for responding to it. Gaining the information is nice, but it must be tied to an intervention plan to make a difference.

Because these are medical situations, automatic referral to a medical case manager makes the most sense. An organization should establish protocols and procedures for approved intervention. Appropriate attention focused from the beginning will abate the damage, thereby improving outcomes.

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About the Author

Karen Wolfe is founder, president and CEO of MedMetrics. She has been working in software design, development, data management and analysis specifically for the workers’ compensation industry for nearly 25 years. Wolfe’s background in healthcare, combined with her business and technology acumen, has resulted in unique expertise.

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