Tag Archives: medical treatment

Confusion Reigns on Predictive Analytics

It seems everyone in workers’ compensation wants analytics. At the same time, a lot of confusion persists about what analytics is and what it can contribute. Expectations are sometimes unclear and often unrealistic. Part of the confusion is that analytics can exist in many forms.

Analytics is a term that encompasses a broad range of data mining and analysis activities. The most common form of analytics is straightforward data analysis and reporting. Other predominant forms are predictive modeling and predictive analytics.

Most people are already doing at least some form of analytics and portraying their results for their unique audiences. Analytics represented by graphic presentations are popular and often informative, but they do not change behavior and outcomes by themselves.

See Also: Analytics and Survival in the Data Age

Predictive modeling uses advanced mathematical tools such as various configurations of regression analysis or even more esoteric mathematical instruments. Predictive modeling looks for statistically valid probabilities about what the future holds within a given framework. In workers’ compensation, predictive modeling is used to forecast which claims will be the most problematic and costly from the outset of the claim. It is also the most sophisticated and usually the most costly predictive methodology.

Predictive analytics lies somewhere between data analysis and predictive modeling. It can be distinguished from predictive modeling in that it uses historic data to learn from experience what to expect in the future. It is based on the assumption that future behavior of an individual or situation will be similar to what has occurred in the past.

One of the best-known applications of predictive analytics is credit scoring, used throughout the financial services industry. Analysis of a customer’s credit history, payment history, loan application and other conditions is used to rank-order individuals by their likelihood of making future credit payments on time. Those with the highest scores are ranked highest and are the best risks. That is why a high credit risk score is important to purchasers and borrowers.

Similarly, workers’ compensation claim data can be collected, integrated and analyzed from bill review, claims system, utilization review, pharmacy (PBM) and claim outcome information to score and rank-order treating physicians’ performance. Those with the highest rank are the most likely to move the injured worker to recovery more quickly and at the lowest cost.

Both predictive modeling and predictive analytics deal in probabilities regarding future behavior. Predictive modeling uses statistical methods, and predictive analytics looks at what was, is and, therefore, probably will be. For predictive analytics, it is important to identify relevant variables that can be found in the data and take action when those conditions or events occur in claims.

One way to find critical variables is to review industry research. For instance, research has shown that, when there is a gap between the date of injury and reporting or the first medical treatment, something is not right. That gap is an outlier in the data that predicts claim complexity.

Another way to identify key variables is to search the data to find the most costly cases and then look for consistent variables among them. Each book of business may have unique characteristics that can be identified in that manner.

Importantly, predictive analytics can be used concurrently throughout the course of the claim. The data is monitored electronically to continually search for outlier variables. When predictive outliers occur in the data, alerts can be sent to the appropriate person so that interventions are timely and more effective.

For example, to evaluate medical provider future performance, select data elements that describe past behavior. Look at past return-to-work patterns and indemnity costs associated with providers. If a provider has not typically returned injured workers to work in the past, chances are pretty good that behavior will continue.

For organizations looking to implement analytics, those who have already made the plunge suggest starting by taking stock of your organization’s current state. “The first thing you need to know is what is happening in your population,” says Rishi Sikka, M.D., senior vice president of clinical transformation for Advocate Health Care in Illinois. “Everyone wants to do all the sexy models and advanced analytics, but just understanding that current state, what is happening, is the first and the most important challenge.”

The accuracy and usability of results will depend greatly on the quality of the data analyzed. To get the best and most satisfying results from predictive analytics, cleanse the data by removing duplicate entries, data omissions and inaccuracies.

For powerful medical management informed by analytics, identify the variables that are most problematic for the organization and continually scan the data to find claims that contain them. Then send an alert. Structuring the outliers, monitoring the data to uncover claims containing them, alerting the right person and taking the right action is a powerful medical management strategy.

10 Reasons Why Healthcare Varies

Imagine your recommended medical treatment came with this warning label: “Your results may vary. Your results are not guaranteed. Outcomes can include preventable complications, up to (and including) hospital-acquired infections, hospital readmission and premature death.”

Caveat emptor or, “buyer beware,” has never been truer than in today’s healthcare system.

The use of evidence-based medicine) protocols delivers higher quality, lower prices and improved outcomes throughout the country for many different treatments. Scientific studies have proven the efficacy of following best-practice guidelines. Achievable results include reduced premature mortality, improved quality of life and better clinical outcomes, which means faster recovery.

See Also: Cutting Healthcare Costs Doesn’t Lower Quality

By no means is this a blanket assertion that the practice of all medicine can be reduced to a checklist, a differential diagnosis and a universal treatment regimen. The seven billion human beings on this planet each have trillions of cells and billions of possible variations. In addition, there are many social determinants of health, including social, economic and physical environmental factors.

The fact is, no treatment regimen works 100% of the time on 100% of the people.

However, there are proven, evidence-based strategies that effectively deliver higher quality and better outcomes with scale (which means lower costs). Therefore, it is incumbent upon healthcare providers and purchasers to live up to their fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of the consumer and the insured employee.

So, what happens in the practice of medicine that results in so much variability in treatment?

Today’s medicine is part science and part art. Unfortunately, for too many years, perverse reimbursement incentives have clouded and conflicted an industry that requires incredibly nuanced judgment on conditions with many variables and possible outcomes.

Outcomes are largely determined by the skill and experience of a physician or team of physicians. Parity may exist in professional sports, but that is not the case in the practice of medicine.

As a result, the practice of medicine is significantly influenced by individual providers and their practice patterns, beliefs, biases, needs and preferences, what we call “10 Reasons Why Medical Quality, Price and Outcomes May Vary.”

See Also: Healthcare Costs: We’ve Had Enough!

Depending on your location, your level of engagement and your particular treatment, the quality, price and outcome are likely to be affected by the actual provider of services. The following list includes 10 reasons why the practice of medicine is driven by the attitude, behavior and skill of the provider:

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The typical American healthcare consumer still believes he is a patient and acts accordingly to eliminate the illness, not always recognizing the role he plays in his outcomes. The irreversible change taking place is that individuals have to learn to become consumers of healthcare by becoming engaged and taking responsibility for both their life outside the medical system and the choices they make when accessing medical care. The risks are real.

Understanding the risk can empower recognition and awareness that acting like a consumer is in your best interest, and that might just save your life. For additional free assistance on avoiding wasteful, unnecessary or poor quality medical tests, treatments or procedures go to www.choosingwisely.org.

How Should Workers’ Compensation Evolve?

Workers’ compensation has been around for more than 100 years. It was developed as a grand bargain between labor and employers to ensure that injured workers received appropriate medical care and wage-loss benefits while employers received protections against tort lawsuits arising from workplace injuries.

The workplace is vastly different than it was when workers’ compensation was conceived. Workers’ compensation has also evolved in some ways, but in other ways it has not kept pace with changing workplace demographics and injury exposures. There are discussions in our industry around whether workers’ compensation is still meeting the needs of both employers and injured workers. Even the U.S. Department of Labor and OSHA have recently questioned the adequacy of workers’ compensation benefits. Some employers are actively pushing for an alternative option to workers’ compensation because they feel workers’ compensation no longer provides suitable protection for employers and injured workers.

As a person who has been very actively engaged in the workers’ compensation industry, I see a variety of issues within the current system and I hear complaints from a variety of stakeholders about it. Industry groups are starting to engage in discussion about the future of workers’ compensation. With that as a backdrop, here are my thoughts around how workers’ compensation needs to evolve.

Change Medical Delivery Model

The single biggest flaw in workers’ compensation is the current medical delivery model. Medical costs keep rising, and outcomes are often poor. This is because, historically, the medical delivery model in workers’ compensation has been focused on two things: discounts and conflict.

See Also: Workers’ Comp Market Trends

Too often, medical treatment in workers’ compensation claims is used as a weapon for secondary gain. Certain attorneys consistently refer injured workers to certain physicians who extend disability, perform unnecessary treatment and ultimately produce poor medical outcomes for the injured workers. These physicians producing the poor outcomes are well-known by the payers, yet they are allowed to continue to ruin the lives of injured workers so that the settlement will be larger and the attorney fee higher. This is just wrong.

The reimbursement model has prominently focused on who will deliver the cheapest care, not necessarily the best care. In fact, sometimes the best physicians refuse to treat workers’ compensation patients because of the low reimbursement rates. In addition, unnecessary utilization review delays workers from receiving care. Bills are not submitted at fee schedule rates, which necessitates spending money on bill review services to ensure that the appropriate amount is paid. There is a lot of money wasted on the bill churn that would be better spent on medical care.

We need to start over completely on the medical delivery model and look at what is happening in group health and Medicare for guidance. Under those models, insureds are not free to treat with any provider they choose; they must treat with someone “in network.” Certain treatments must be pre-authorized, and prescription drugs must be on an approved formulary to be covered. Both group health and Medicare are now scoring medical providers to see which of them produce the best outcomes. Those that consistently produce poor outcomes are excluded from coverage. Everyone with medical insurance, including Medicare, has operated under these rules for years. Yet, when the same rules are proposed under workers’ compensation, there is outrage that the injured worker would be denied the right to treat as he wishes.

The industry and regulator needs to focus on identifying which medical providers produce the best outcomes for injured workers and also which providers follow established treatment guidelines. These physicians, and only these physicians, need to be treating workers’ compensation patients. Let’s eliminate the “plaintiff and defense” doctor mentality and just have good doctors treating our injured workers. Once we have identified those physicians, we need to get out of their way and let them treat the patient. There is no need for utilization review when an approved physician is following treatment guidelines and dispensing off the pharmacy formulary.

Let’s change the focus from conflict and discounts to better outcomes and expedited treatment. These won’t be easy changes to make, but the result will be better outcomes for injured workers and lower costs for employers. Win-Win!

Reduce Bureaucracy

The administrative bureaucracy around workers’ compensation is complex, time-consuming and extremely costly. It also does little to enhance the underlying purpose of the workers’ compensation system, which is to deliver benefits to injured workers and return them to the workplace in a timely manner. States create a never-ending mountain of forms that must be filed and data that must be reported. These requirements vary by state, forcing carriers and TPAs to comply with more than 50 different sets of rules and regulations.

Also, why are penalties for compliance errors not based on a pattern of conduct instead of being issued with every violation? If a payer is 99%-compliant across thousands of claims, it is making every effort to comply. But mistakes happen when humans are involved, so perfection is not obtainable. The focus of compliance efforts should be ensuring that every effort is being made to comply, not simply generating revenue from every error.

State regulators need to take a critical look at their administrative requirements with a focus on increasing efficiency, reducing redundancy and lowering the costs to both payers and the states themselves.

Tighten Thresholds of Compensability and Eliminate Presumptions

The threshold for something to be a compensable workers’ compensation claim varies from 1% (aggravating condition) to more than 50% (major cause). Workers’ compensation benefits should be reserved for injuries and diseases caused by the workplace environment, not a simple aggravation. In addition, the normal human aging process should not produce a compensable workers’ compensation claim under the theory of “repetitive trauma.” There should not be workers’ compensation benefits for simply standing, walking, bending and other basic activities related to daily living.

States should adopt a consistent threshold that the work injury is the major cause of the disabling condition. If work is not more than 50% responsible for the condition, then it belongs under group health.

While we are at it, presumptions for certain conditions and occupations should be eliminated. These laws are based more on politics than science, and they add significant unnecessary costs to public entity employers, which, in turn, increases the tax burden on every person in this country. They also fly in the face of equal protection under the law by creating a preferred class of injured workers. If the facts of the case and the science support a compensable claim, then it should be compensable. However, a firefighter who has smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 20 years should not automatically receive workers’ compensation benefits for lung cancer because of a presumption law.

Eliminate Permanent Partial Disability and Focus on Return to Work

The human body is a remarkable machine because it has the ability to heal itself. In addition, medical treatment is specifically meant to restore function. Most injuries do not result in some type of permanent impairment, yet most states have a permanent partial disability benefit. Why? This is how workers’ compensation attorneys get paid. Permanent partial disability benefits represent a tort element injected into this no-fault benefit delivery system, and this is the leading cause of litigation in workers’ compensation.

The goal of workers’ compensation is to return injured workers to employment. If they can go back to their regular earnings, then the goal is accomplished. If they cannot, then there should be a wage-loss benefit. This gives incentive to employers to return injured workers’ to employment, and it would significantly reduce litigation and conflict in the system.

Eliminate Waiting Periods

The suggestions I have provided thus far would all reduce workers’ compensation costs. The savings should allow us to increase certain benefits without increasing employer costs. Let’s start eliminating the waiting period. Why should someone have to go without pay for three to seven days because they suffered a workplace injury? This creates an unnecessary financial hardship on injured workers. You don’t have a waiting period when taking sick days from work, so why is there a waiting period for workers’ compensation benefits? Yes, a change would result in more indemnity claims, but we are talking small dollars in additional benefits when compared with the benefit this would provide to injured workers by reducing the financial strain caused by a workplace injury.

Eliminate Caps on Indemnity Benefits

All states cap the weekly indemnity benefits that injured workers can receive. These caps range from a high of $1,628 (Iowa) to a low of $469 (Mississippi). In 34 states, the benefit cap is less than $1,000/week.

Think about that for a moment. In most states, if you are earning more than $78,000 per year, you will be subject to the benefit cap. This is not something that only affects the top 1% of the workforce. This cap affects skilled trade workers, factory workers, teachers, healthcare workers, municipal employees, police, firefighters and a variety of others. It is truly a penalty on the middle class. For workers subject to the cap, their workers’ compensation benefits will be significantly less than their normal wages. How many of us could avoid financial ruin if our income was suddenly reduced by a significant percentage?

See Also: Why Mental Health Matters in Work Comp

Workers’ compensation benefits are designed to be a backstop for those unfortunate enough to suffer a workplace injury. Having a workers’ compensation claim should not mean someone suffers a significant financial hardship simply because they earn a decent living. Eliminating the benefit cap would solve this problem.

Define and Cover Known Occupational Diseases

One area where workers’ compensation really needs to evolve is the coverage of occupational diseases. This concept was not contemplated when workers’ compensation statutes were drafted because the focus was on sudden traumatic injuries, but we know that occupational diseases are a reality. Science tells us that there are certain conditions that may be caused by workplace exposures. These conditions can take years to manifest.

The industry and regulators need to work together to identify those diseases that are caused by the work environment and ensure that benefits are available to address them. This means eliminating statutes of limitations that are shorter than the latency period for the condition to develop.

I refer back to my comments on thresholds of compensability. If the workplace exposure is more than 50% responsible for the condition, then it should be covered. If not, then it should be paid under group health.

Reduce Inconsistency Between States

Workers’ compensation is a state-based system, so there will always be variations between the states. However, there are some areas where the inconsistency increases costs and does not treat all workers equally.

If states could agree on a common data template for carrier reporting, it would significantly reduce the administrative costs associated with gathering and reporting data. All the states don’t need to use the same data elements, but they could accept the feed and simply ignore what they did not need. There have been efforts in this area for years with no resolution. In addition, a common workplace poster for coverage and common forms would also significantly reduce the costs associated with compliance in these areas. As mentioned previously, the bureaucracy of workers’ compensation adds unnecessary cost to the system. We should be able to make some small changes to common templates to reduce costs and increase efficiency.

Another area of inconsistency is the simple definition of who is an employee subject to workers’ compensation coverage. If two people work for the same company performing the same job in different states, one should not be subject to workers’ compensation while the other is not, yet this occurs. States vary on their definitions of employees vs. independent contractors. Some states exclude farm workers and domestic servants from workers’ compensation, while others mandate coverage for those workers. Whether or not you are eligible for workers’ compensation should not vary based on your state of employment.

Ensure That Permanent Total and Death Benefits Are Adequate

Having a family’s breadwinner die or become permanently totally disabled (PTD) is both emotionally and financially devastating. Workers’ compensation benefits are supposed to help reduce the financial impact. Yet there are four states that have hard caps on all indemnity benefits (DC, MS, IN, SC). If you are permanently totally disabled in those states, benefits only pay for 450-500 weeks. That means, by design, those states shift PTD claims to the social welfare system.

Things are even worse with death benefits. There are 19 states that cap death benefits, including the four listed above. In Georgia and Florida, death benefits are capped at only $150,000. Some would argue that there may be life insurance to provide additional funds, but there is certainly no guarantee of that.

The most devastating injuries should not result in even more devastating financial consequences for the injured worker and the family.

Adopt an Advocacy-Based Claims Model

In many ways, workers’ compensation is a system based on conflict. We have “adjusters” who “investigate” your claim. A very small percentage of claims are ultimately denied as not being compensable, yet the claims review process is based on those claims rather than the vast majority, which resolve without any issues. Businesses stress the importance of customer service, and most employers agree that the workforce is the most valuable asset of any business. However, many businesses often fail to treat their own injured employees with the same consideration they give to their customers. That customer service focus needs to be extended not just to customers but to employees.

In discussions around creating an “Advocacy-Based Claims Model,” employers adopting this approach are seeing less litigation, lower costs and greater employee satisfaction. Rather than just denying a claim and inviting litigation, workers are told about benefit options that are available when workers’ compensation is not appropriate. Changing this model is about changing attitudes, the language we use to communicate and even the workflow. It can be done.

Workers’ compensation is still a valuable protection for both injured workers and employers. However, the time has come for it to evolve to better reflect the realities of the current workforce, risks present in the workplace, and advances in science and medicine. If workers’ compensation is to remain relevant for another 100 years, it needs to keep up with changes in society.

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New Tool for Settling Open Medical Claims

The almighty dollar is often just one component of a successful workers’ compensation settlement. Savvy negotiators recognize that they have several tools at their disposal when it comes to bridging the gap between the payer’s offer and the plaintiff’s demand, many of which dictate how and when the settlement dollars can be used.

On both sides of the negotiating table, many are adept at minimizing or maximizing the medical cost projection or the amount that goes into a Medicare Set Aside (MSA). Many in the industry also understand how a structured settlement (annuity) can unlock value and allow for the pacing of stable income for the claimant.

Now, a small but growing number in the industry are beginning to understand how offering professional administration (PA) of the claimant’s future medical funds can help facilitate a settlement. PA provides the claimant with a dedicated support team after he settles the case, along with technology to ensure he saves money when he actually spend the settlement dollars on healthcare.

What settlement issues can you use PA to help address?

The most often cited concerns of injured workers when they face the prospect of settling are regarding: 1) access to their medical treatment and 2) how long it takes to get a response from their adjuster, attorneys or the board as they go through settlement process. Examples of these concerns are easily found by reading the comments directly from injured workers in a survey by the New York Workers’ Compensation Board. Issues like “denied treatment” and “delayed processes” are at the core of nearly every complaint.

PA is effective in addressing these concerns because PA services do not restrict the claimant’s access to medical treatment via utilization review or a medical provider network (MPN); PA services provide expanded choices for treatment. In addition, many PA services have call centers that offer support to their clients, the injured workers. CareGuard, for instance, offers 24/7 coverage to its members and prospective members to answer any questions they may have as they navigate the complex healthcare maze after settlement.

Through the life of their claim, many injured workers simply lose trust in the attorneys, judges or system in general. This is often because the settlement process sets the parties up at a table for purposes of a one-time transaction, but then each group walks their own separate way.

There is sparing research done on injured workers’ attitudes toward settling their case, but a survey in Minnesota in 2013 scratched the surface of what a daunting undertaking settling is for the injured individual. The study found that about one-third of injured workers did not fully understand their settlement. Further, it revealed that around three-quarters of injured workers did NOT believe they achieved a “fair” settlement. The sample used were folks who actually overcame their concerns and settled regardless of the negative sentiment the process evoked. Many claimants do not have the courage to push forward with settlement and instead decide to leave their future medical claim, if not their entire claim, open.

PA can be a valuable tool, whether for adjusters, defense attorneys or plaintiff attorneys, to inject trust and solutions into a contentious situation. A team becomes available to address claimants’ concerns about their future medical treatment. PA also introduces a party to the settlement negotiation whose interests are aligned with the claimant’s, because the PA provider will be the only party continuing to provide service to the claimant after settlement. This can give the claimant much-needed peace of mind that a partner is looking out for his best interests, and it is this peace of mind that helps reluctant claimants see that settling could in fact be their best decision. PA services give claimants comfort and confidence that life after settlement can be a rewarding and hassle free experience.

How can you leverage PA in a settlement?

To leverage PA effectively, negotiators on either side of the table should introduce the service early on in the process and clearly explain its benefits to the claimant. Often times, it’s useful to connect the PA provider directly with the claimant or her attorney so that a relationship is established and the service is well-understood. After all, the agreement between the PA provider and the claimant will exist for years beyond the settlement; it’s better to begin that relationship early on rather than try to throw it in last minute.

The PA provider can serve as a neutral party that helps explain to the claimant what she can expect after settlement. Some PA providers, like CareGuard, can go further to provide cost analyses of what treatments will cost on their platform and demos of how their service works. PA providers understand that they do not get paid until the case settles, so they are a source of information and guidance toward settlement for all parties involved.

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Time to Focus on Injured Workers

When WorkCompCentral released a report, The Uncompensated Worker, I wrote about how a work injury affects family finances. I applied several realistic work injury scenarios to each state. In 31 states, workers receive a reduction in take-home pay of 15% or more when they’re injured on the job. In half the states, households with two median wage earners—one on work disability and the other working full time—cannot afford to sustain their basic budget.

These findings confirmed what workers’ comp claims adjusters, attorneys and case managers already know: Many injured workers live on the edge of financial collapse.

But the findings are by no means conclusive.  The research done for “The Uncompensated Worker” was too limited. I know, because I did it. To really understand the financial experience of being on workers’ comp benefits, one should run not a handful but thousands of scenarios through a statistical analyzer and then compare the data results with actual cases researched through interviews.

The research agendas of the workers’ comp industry rarely involve looking at the worker her or himself.

Instead, the industry has funded research mainly to understand the drivers of claims costs, specifically medical care. This focus can be explained. Over the past 25 or so years, the workers’ comp industry has absorbed a huge rise in medical costs, more and more layers of regulation relating to medical treatment and even more specialties needed to deliver or oversee medical care.

To illustrate the extent of this industrial-medical complex: Nationwide spending on “loss adjustment expense,” a proxy for specialist oversight of claims, has grown annually on average by 9.4%  since 1990, while total claims costs have risen on average by 2.5%.

The quality of industry-funded research has improved, because of better data and strong talent pools in places like the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI), the California Workers’ Compensation Institute and the National Council for Compensation Insurance. Their research focuses on cost containment and service delivery. These two themes often intertwine in studies about medications, surgeries or medical provider selection.

It’s time to pay more attention to the worker. Close to a million workers a year lost at least one day from work because of injury.  We hardly know them. Bob Wilson of Workerscompensation.com predicts that, in 2016, “The injured worker will be removed from the system entirely. … Culminating a move started some 20 years ago, this final step will bring true efficiency and cost savings to the workers’ comp industry.” Industry research, one might say, has left the worker out the system.

An example of how the worker is removed can be seen in how the WCRI did an analysis of weekly benefit indemnity caps. These caps set a maximum benefit typically related to the state’s average weekly wage. (The methodology has probably not been critiqued by states for generations, despite better wage data and analytical methods.) The WCRI modeled different caps to estimate the number of workers affected. But it did not report on what this meant to workers and their families; for example, by how much their take-home benefits would change.

As it happens, Indiana is one of the worst states for being injured at work; it has close to the stingiest benefits for a brief disability. You are not paid for the first seven calendar days of disability. Benefits for that waiting period are restored only if you remain on disability for 22 calendar days. Take-home pay for someone who is out for two weeks or less will likely be 83% less than what it would have been without injury. An Indianapolis couple, both at the state’s median wage, cannot afford a basic month’s budget for a family of three when one is on extended work disability. These poor results are partly because of Indiana’s benefit cap, which is one of the lowest in the country. The weekly benefit cap used in the report, a 2014 figure, was $650.

Les Boden, a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, read a draft of “The Uncompensated Worker.” For years, he has studied the income of injured workers and the adequacy of workers’ compensation benefits. He told me, “Studies have shown that many people with work-related injuries and illnesses don’t receive any workers’ comp benefits. I don’t think that the problem is too little research. It’s political. Unfortunately, workers are invisible in the political process, and businesses threatening to leave the state are not.”

I am not sure how the politics of this issue can change until the strongest research centers in the industry begin to pay attention to the worker.

This article first appeared at workcompcentral.com.