Telemedicine and Georgia Workers’ Comp: What You Need to Know

Personal and Doctor in Telemedicine Appointment

Telemedicine and workers’ comp accelerated when the world shut down in 2020. People were not comfortable visiting doctors’ offices, and many doctors preferred treating patients online rather than face-to-face.

According to Definitive Healthcare, “With over 42% of Americans using telehealth during the pandemic, the data speaks for itself —Definitive analysts uncovered a 6,000% increase in telehealth claims from the summer of 2019 to the summer of 2020.”

Virtually everyone was invited to use telemedicine during the pandemic, including those injured on the job. 

Experts do not think this practice is going away just because the world is slowly returning to normal.

In the State Bar of Georgia Workers’ Compensation Law Section Newsletter, Michelle L. Knight writes, “Based on the cost of medical care, transportation, and scheduling conflicts, telemedicine is one change that is here to stay after COVID-19’s social distancing mandates are over.”

In particular, experts seem to believe telemedicine and workers’ comp will go hand-in-hand, even if there are flaws in the system. 

Under Georgia workers’ compensation law, any business with three or more workers, including regular part-time workers, is required to have workers’ compensation insurance. 

Workers’ comp insurance is required, so that, in case of a workplace injury, workers may be compensated for medical treatment, rehabilitation, income benefits, and permanent disability.

However, the workers’ comp insurance benefits you receive are determined on a case-by-case basis, which makes it confusing.

Throw telemedicine in the mix, and it becomes even more confusing. 

To make matters more complex, the State Bar of Georgia has not clearly defined the parameters for telemedicine and workers’ comp

Knight explains, “Telehealth may not be effective for the long run due to the fact that our statutes do not address ‘examinations’ that are not ‘in person.’” 

Since online healthcare is on the rise, let’s clear up some of the confusion regarding telemedicine and workers’ comp in Georgia.

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What Is Telemedicine?

Since telemedicine is continually evolving, it is important to see how it is defined for legislation. 

The Georgia Telemedicine Act, SB118, defines telehealth as “the use of information and communications technologies, including, but not limited to, telephones, remote patient monitoring devices or other electronic means which support clinical health care, provider consultation, patient and professional health-related education, public health, and health administration.”

SB118 defines telemedicine as “a form of telehealth which is the delivery of clinical health care services by means of real-time two-way audio, visual, or other telecommunications or electronic communications, including the application of secure video conferencing or store and forward transfer technology to provide or support health care delivery, which facilitate the assessment, diagnosis, consultation, treatment, education, care management, and self-management of a patient’s health care by a health care provider practicing within his or her scope of practice as would be practiced in-person with a patient, and legally allowed to practice in this state, while such patient is at an originating site and the health care provider is at a distant site.”

The short answer is telemedicine is a means of real-time medical care via audio or visual tools, such as a smartphone, laptop, or mobile device

How Do I Find a Telemedicine Doctor for My Work-Related Injury?

Some workers’ comp insurance companies offer policyholders telemedicine services, in addition to the standard list of authorized treating physicians.

However, with the sudden surge in telemedicine, many medical practices took their services online to meet the needs of their patients. 

This means if you are injured on the job, you have a few different options when it comes to finding a doctor:

  1. See if your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance has a telemedicine option.
  2. See if the doctor on your employer’s list of authorized treating physicians offers telemedicine.
  3. Skip telemedicine, and see one of the doctors on the list your employer has posted.

The important thing to remember is that you still get a choice.

While you do need to stick to the list of authorized physicians, you get to choose which one you’d like to see.

When Is Telemedicine Most Useful for Work Injuries?

There are many times when telemedicine and workers’ comp make sense. 

For example, if you suffer a minor injury on the job, it is much more convenient to speak with a nurse triage to determine if you need to seek further treatment or can perform self-care.

It is also helpful for those who live or work long distances from medical practices.

Plus, for those who work nights, it is easier and quicker to speak to someone virtually than it is to wait in a 24-hour emergency room.

Telemedicine and workers’ comp also alleviate some of the stress associated with the number of doctors’ visits required. 

For example, if you need to have follow-up appointments after your initial examination or need to adjust medications, this can be handled with telemedicine.

How Do Telemedicine and Workers’ Comp Work?

Ultimately, telemedicine and workers’ comp will vary depending on the workers’ comp insurance company. 

To give you an idea, here is an example from The Cheesecake Factory:

“At The Cheesecake Factory, it works this way: If an employee gets injured in the workplace, it’s first determined whether emergency care is needed. If so, the employee is taken to an urgent care center. If it’s a non-urgent injury, the company facilitates a call into nurse triage. If the nurse triage is unsuccessful in sufficiently treating the injury, the employee is given the option of a physician visit via telemedicine, using the employee’s own mobile device.”

Other workplaces allow the injured employee to seek telemedicine help first before going to an urgent care center. 

What Are the Disadvantages of Telemedicine for Workers’ Comp?

Like all technology, there are advantages and disadvantages of telemedicine, especially when it comes to workers’ comp.

As mentioned above, the biggest issue is that there are not clearly defined legal regulations for telemedicine and workers’ comp

For example, workers’ comp law typically has defined regulations regarding examinations necessary for determining light-duty release and full-duty release.

With telemedicine, the patient may see a doctor virtually when a physical examination is most appropriate. 

Will a doctor release a patient to full-duty work based solely on what he sees through a screen?

Is it possible a doctor could misdiagnose a patient because they haven’t been given standard in-person tests?

Along these same lines, one of the reasons many employers and workers’ comp insurance companies push telemedicine is because they find it is easier to get employees back to work sooner.

But, there are serious dangers to rushing someone’s return to work. Without a physical examination, it is possible employees will return before they are truly ready. 

Additionally, we’ve seen story after story about cybercrimes and hacking. How will this affect telemedicine?

On a much smaller level, how does one know that the conversation is private between the doctor and the patient? In workers’ comp situations, it is critical for employees to watch what they say so their words cannot be used against them. 

These are all important issues to consider as you think about using telemedicine for work-related injuries. 

What If Telemedicine Doesn’t Work for Me?

Telemedicine will not work for everyone. Some work-related injuries are so severe they don’t qualify for telemedicine.

But, that’s not the only time when telemedicine may not be right.

Insurance is a business. As such, they prioritize profits over people.

They will do everything they can to avoid paying benefits – even those you justifiably deserve and are entitled to.

Sometimes, they will contest a claim and suggest it wasn’t work-related (so they won’t have to pay).

This may be even more possible if you used telemedicine and were misdiagnosed or weren’t properly examined.

This is why it is wise to work with a workers’ compensation attorney who understands the ins and outs of telemedicine.

Hiring an experienced workers’ compensation attorney not only makes the entire process easier but also ensures you get the best treatment possible, with the maximum benefits and the maximum settlement at the end of your claim.

If you’ve been injured on the job, contact us today for a free, no-strings-attached consultation.