I was on a panel yesterday as part of the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network (NWCDN) Annual Conference. We were discussing life now and in the future in the “virtual world.” At one point the topic turned to the challenges of claims management in a virtual environment. My fellow panelists made great comments about having to pivot to new methods regarding elements of the claims process; approval signatures, payment methods and the like. I had a slightly different opinion on the matter. I conjectured to the panel and attendees that at a higher level, the workers’ compensation claims process has been essentially virtual for many years, long before the COVID pandemic hit our shores.

(BTW – all of the NWCDN sessions – and there were a lot, will be available for replay starting later today. You can learn more and register free at https://events.nwcdn.com

Think about it. If you talk to a long time claims professional, they will tell you (lament, actually) about the days when they met injured workers in their home. They were exposed to their environment and saw first-hand the challenges they were having. And they could settle a claim by “stroking a check on the hood of a car.” 

Those days, by and large, are gone. Today, at least up until the advent of COVID-19, the job of the claim’s professional had largely become based in an office or cubicle inside a heavily secured building. They often had incredibly high caseloads, and spent much of their day sending emails, processing faxes and speaking to dozens of faceless voices on the phone (or leaving lots of messages on an even less personal voicemail system). Outside of litigation or mediations (the nature of which severely hamper any mindful social interaction), they did not have the opportunity for common face to face communication. Through the process of consolidation and outsourcing of various responsibilities, the claim position had, in my view, become largely virtual in many capacities, especially when viewed through the lens of interpersonal relationships.  

As the industry push for more innovative treatment protocols increases, this structure was going to be problematic. Years ago, we started the effort to rebrand the workers’ compensation industry to “Workers’ Recovery” as a method of repositioning the focus and attitudes of both the industry and the people it serves. Many elements of that philosophy are being championed now in certain quarters, with broad discussions of “whole person care” and “bio-psychosocial” elements making real headway in important areas. They are important steps, but difficult to accomplish in the claims environment that has evolved over the last 30 years.

Ironically, the rapid adoption of virtual communication tools in response to COVID may actually help restore some elements of interpersonal relationships in what I have labeled a largely virtual process. As we become more comfortable with technology (and learn how to start a Zoom meeting with both our camera and microphone actually turned on), claims professionals have the opportunity to once again meet the people they are helping on a face-to-face basis; even if they are physically separated by hundreds or thousands of miles. It is an opportunity to bring back a touchpoint that has been largely lost but is increasingly recognized as critical. Putting a face to a name can make a huge difference, certainly for the claims pro but especially for the injured worker, who is often feeling isolated and alone in this process. 

And that same technology can be used in many interactions, including doctors, case managers and more. 

There is an irony in the concept that adopting virtual technologies can actually make a position more connected and personal than it was previously. But I believe that to be the true possibility here. In my opinion, from a process perspective, the workers’ compensation claims position has been virtual for many years but can pivot to a more personal touch using technologies hastily adopted during a pandemic.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Wouldn’t be the first time. Tell me in the comments below. This is a topic worthy of greater discussion.

And, oh yeah, we still believe that a shift to “workers’ recovery” is critical in the process of improving workers’ comp. If you want to set accurate expectations for everyone involved, no word does it better than recovery.

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