Workers’ compensation as a system for dealing with injuries and illnesses related to employment activities is more than 100 years old. It has only recently begun to adopt new developments in technology. The initiation and processing of a claim made by an injured worker is generally a manual process, requiring the submission of forms and telephone calls to file and track the progress of a claim, but new initiatives are underway to change the workers’ compensation system.
Wearables in the workplace
Most people are familiar with wearable technology through the devices they now clip onto their belts or wear on their wrists to track the number of miles they run or walk in the course of a day. The introduction of wearable devices in the workplace could be the first step toward increasing worker safety and preventing accidents from occurring.
Although monitoring workers and their movements while on the job through the use of wearable devices has not been introduced on a broad scale, workers’ compensation insurance companies have found them useful to manage and track workers as they recover from a work-related injury.
Wearables are now being used for the following purposes:
- Remotely monitor an individual’s vital signs to allow doctors to evaluate treatment plans and monitor patient reaction to medications.
- Monitor a burn victim’s exposure to sunlight to avoid complications in recovering.
- Make it possible for people with paralysis to control wheelchairs, thermostats, lighting, and other electronics through a wearable device requiring a minimal amount of movement.
In the future, devices worn by workers could alert them to dangerous conditions or hazards in their work environment. For instance, workers and their managers employed in mining operations could be warned if a worker ventures into an area posing a unique danger or hazard.
Other industries could also benefit from monitoring devices. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 13 percent of the truck drivers involved in accidents showed signs of fatigue at the time of the crash. A device using infrared technology to monitor a driver’s eyes is available that sounds an alert when it detects signs of fatigue. The company marketing the device claims it can detect fatigue up to an hour before drivers are aware they are experiencing it.
Increased use of smartphone technology
Companies are already using smartphone technology to provide ongoing safety training and alerts to reduce accidents and worker injuries. Online training ensures greater participation by workers who do not have to attend at a centralized location.
Using mobile devices to communicate with employees could also be used as part of the workers’ compensation claims management process. For example, smartphones and mobile technology could be used for the following:
- Provide updated claims information to workers and employers.
- Worker access to medical providers.
- Communicate information about medical care.
- Email and text messaging alerts about claims, prescriptions, and medical care.
A financial institution now uses mobile technology to offer its employees around-the-clock access to a registered nurse to report a work-related claim. The nurse reviews the worker’s medical history and information about the current injury, including a description of how it happened. Workers are given recommendations for treatment and referral to a health care provider.
Technology streamlines workers’ compensation claims process
People seem to be doing everything on smartphones, so it would appear to be natural to allow injured workers to report a claim and track its progress through the workers’ compensation process using a mobile electronic device. Electronic filing of claims is the exception rather than the rule.
Oregon workers, for example, must complete a form found on the government’s website to report an injury or illness related to employment. The form must be submitted to the employer that forwards it to the workers’ compensation insurance carrier for processing. Implementation of the latest technology would allow for the following to be accomplished through a smartphone:
- Filing claims.
- Checking claim status and payment information.
- Submitting supporting documents.
- Communicating with claims staff and medical providers.
- Using electronic signatures.
- Having meetings and hearings held electronically.
Teleconferencing of some court proceedings is already a reality in courtrooms in some states. Judges, attorneys, and the parties can meet to discuss a case via audio and video feed without them all being in the same location. The cost of building and implementing teleconferencing can be substantial, but the benefits to workers’ compensation claimants and employers and to the claims process could be worth it.
Regardless of the process through which claims are made and processed, an injured worker should seek legal advice from a skilled and knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney. Workers benefit from an attorney’s review of the claim and guidance throughout the process.