Cynthia Kane, 58, allegedly suffered shortness of breath due to breathing in petroleum fumes over a prolonged period. Kane had already “lawyered up,” so a statement was out of the question. Her file during her 15 years with Union Manufacturing raised no suspicions. Kane was a nonsmoker, and she had never complained to the company nurse about pulmonary problems.
I arranged to tour Kane’s work location. It was separated from the machine shop, where the actual manufacturing took place, by a floor-to-ceiling wall with glass windows. The assembly area was not particularly dirty, and I verified that the HVAC system was up to specifications and maintained twice annually.
Kane didn’t appear to be in any distress as she did her job.
Kane’s shift ended at 5 p.m., so I returned to the plant at 4:45 that afternoon and waited in the parking lot. I followed her as she made her way home in a fairly new two-door sports car. She stopped at a dry cleaner on the way. I parked and waited nearby for 10 minutes. When she didn’t come out, I decided to
This was a large operation with the cleaning machines in the back room. There were huge fans throughout the store, but even so there was an unmistakable kerosene-like smell from the solvents used in the dry cleaning process.
At the counter, I asked the clerk about dry-cleaning bedspreads while I strained to see into the back of the store. It was evident Kane was working.
I scratched my head. Why didn’t her attorneys name the shop as a co-defendant on the claims petition? It had far greater pulmonary exposure to airborne contaminants than Union Manufacturing.
The next day, I went back to the dry cleaner and asked to speak with Kane. The flustered counter person said they had no employee by that name. I went back to the dry cleaners three more times during the next two weeks, and each time, I saw Kane’s car there.
I arranged to have a disability evaluation by a pulmonologist, who confirmed that Kane had a mild pulmonary disability (5 percent PPD rating). After reading my report, the doctor concluded the condition was not due to her work at Union Manufacturing. Kane’s attorney had a disability report rating Kane at 25 percent PPD.
I couldn’t fault Kane for wanting a part-time job to help pay for living expenses (and her sports car), but she left me no choice but to deny the claim against Union.
I called her counsel and explained that we’d have to go to trial. He was incredulous, until I explained my findings.
“Your client didn’t tell you about her ‘under the table’ deal at Salerno’s Dry Cleaning, did she?” I asked him. “I personally observed her working there on three different occasions, and noted the smell of the dry cleaning solvent was very strong.
“I am willing to bet that exposure is the proximate cause of any pulmonary disability she has, rather than from a clean and temperature-controlled environment at Union Manufacturing Co. My examining physician agrees.”
The attorney reluctantly agreed to withdraw the petition. Kane continued to work at Union, and whether she kept her night job at the dry cleaner wasn’t my concern. A good investigation paid off and the claim against Union Manufacturing hit a snag.
What Is ‘Off Work’?
Last week, I sat through a lovely presentation on FMLA processing. At one point, it was from the occupational health clinic perspective, which stated that stay at work and return to work are the first priority.
I was thinking, “Great, we’re all on the same page!” Then I realized that it was the same clinic we use. From experience, I know that’s not their past practice.
My first thought was “Why does an occupational health clinic even have a box that says ‘off work’ on the return to work slip?”
I’m a firm believer in the premise that we all have a part to play in the average workers’ compensation claim. The employee reports the injury and makes every effort toward recovery.
The employer files the claim and manages the employment relationship. The adjuster decides if the injury or accident is compensable under that specific jurisdiction with the facts as reported. Lastly, the clinic and doctors provide evaluation and treatment to get the employee to maximum medical improvement (MMI).
The hope is always that MMI is their pre-injury status, in all ways —medically, financially and emotionally the same as before the incident. This becomes difficult in the face of an ‘off work’ slip, which happens more often than it should.
This got me thinking about the nature of ‘work’ and how it impacts the employee’s ability to return to full function. The employees I’ve worked with have very specific tasks associated with their work, usually outlined by detailed work instructions. (Thank you, Quality!)
So when we get an ‘off work’ we are both surprised and dismayed. The employee now has a more difficult return to work process due to the financial burden of not being paid for the waiting period, a reduced salary and perhaps some discouragement about continuing to work for the employer. Making matters worse, the ‘off work’ slip gives no direction for what the employee should be doing to recover.
My first thought was “Why does an occupational health clinic even have a box that says ‘off work’ on the return to work slip?”
The employee goes home to heal or get treatment or use narcotics (that always keeps them off work).
What do employees do while ‘off work’? I have seen some video of employees that are not ‘working’ and they seem to perform all normal life activities. As a vocational counselor, I know that most tasks we do in everyday life are also things that other people do as an occupation.
For example, cook, fast food (DOT 313.374-010), chauffer, domestic service (DOT 359.673.010), maid (DOT 323.687-014) or laundry, domestic (DOT 302.685-010). By the way, I have just described my holiday weekend for you. I was not working but I did every one of those jobs in rotation.
It seems the only difference between work and activities of daily life is the pay. I conclude that ‘off work’ means ‘cannot do anything for pay.’
That limitation does not promote stay at work/return to work for anyone. If we can just convince doctors that ‘off work’ is a limitation that neither promotes recovery nor describes what the employee does while not working, we will all be better off.
RIMS Recap: Tech Trends that Could Change Everything
Last month, Gordon Clemons, CEO and Chairman of CorVel Corporation, presented at the RIMS Conference in New Orleans, La. about emerging technology and how it is impacting risk management and workers’ compensation. The discussion served as a springboard for new insights on how technology will change the industry, and reaffirmed the need for integrated systems and human interaction for the best results.
The presentation noted the future is here – and technology is constantly evolving in hopes of outpacing tomorrow’s needs. As these technology platforms become more inherent in daily life, the gap in translating their utilization to workers’ compensation will begin to close.
Technology in Healthcare
While many consumer-based technology advancements exist in other industries, perhaps most notably in the retail space helping vendors to reduce various delays in the sales experience, people may forget that healthcare, too, is a consumer industry. And as such, healthcare also experiences workflow lags, which can be collapsed.
While patients and claims may not lend themselves as freely to mobile applications and technology that subscribes to the “Internet of Things” philosophy, the rapid rate of development foretells the not-too-far-off arrival of the “a-ha,” “wow factor”-type application that consumers are seeking in the healthcare industry.
Once we get there, we can only expect that the Pangea of resources will yield better outcomes. The potential impact to medical management includes more affordable/accessible healthcare, patient convenience, personal assistance, automatic inputs to claims systems and less administration from both patients and injured workers.
“Healthcare is stubborn about change. There are more data points in healthcare and there is a greater need for high quality and accuracy,” Clemons said.
Tech Trends for the Next Digital Decade
As an industry advocate in all things innovation, CorVel has been keeping tabs on emerging tech trends. As they begin to influence in other industries, it sparks the question – will they eventually change workers’ compensation?
Here are some of the trends on CorVel’s radar:
Smart phones and tablets were the first mobile devices to really start to gain traction across people’s personal lives. Since then, wearables (like Fitbits and smart watches) have been part of the next digital generation to be taken up by consumers.
As these personal devices quickly advance, wearables could offer payors and employers added insight into the wellness of claimants through the extent of their retrievable data.
Beacons are devices that use low-energy Bluetooth connections to communicate messages or triggers directly to a smart device (such as a phone or tablet). Retailers have started using this technology, sending offers to near-by consumers’ phones. Now the concepts of smart mirrors and smart walls offer a one-stop-shop with recommendations related to the preferences of the shopper – making a hyper-efficient business model. It is possible that we could see these devices adapted to being a catalyst for healthcare’s business model by reducing the delays of administrative work.
Formally known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), drones can be remote-controlled or flown autonomously through pre-defined flight plans within their internal systems. Some carriers are testing the use of drones to potentially be used to evaluate property damage and responding to natural disasters.
As most injuries reported in workers’ compensation are musculoskeletal injuries, the industry lends itself well to the benefits of telecommunications and telemedicine. With the rise of electronic capabilities, telemedicine becomes another option to help guide an injured worker through their entire episode of care, reducing time delays.
In order to get to that point in time, implementing these trends (and those that are yet to be launched) will only be as successful as the population willing to accept them. Buy-in will require a commitment to the long-standing pillars of the industry. According to Clemons, “While technology can truly move the needle in workers’ compensation, it will take more than bells and whistles to maximize its impact.”
“People’s feelings are valid. The skepticism surrounding new technology is not misplaced, but neither is the enthusiasm,” Clemons said.
New Trends, Same Priorities
Beyond the buzzwords and hype surrounding the latest apps and devices, for new technology to succeed within the workers’ compensation realm, it boils down to the two primary concepts that drive the industry to begin with – effective infrastructure and a people-first philosophy.
The power of applicable resources and the actionable data that results from them is in the foundation of the systems themselves; that primarily being through the influence of integration. It is not a new concept; however, as technology advances and the reach of analytic capabilities broadens, it is important to find a provider that can harness this data and channel it into effective workflows to increase efficiencies and promote better outcomes.
CorVel’s proprietary claims management system has been developed and supported by an in-house, full-time information systems division to be intuitive and user-friendly. Complex, proprietary algorithms link codified data across the system, facilitating collaboration between services, workflows, customers, and technology and eliminating the risk that a crucial piece of information will be missed. The result is an active “ecosystem” providing customers with actionable data to provide the most accurate, comprehensive picture at any time, while also collapsing inherent delays.
For the injured worker, the critical human touch connection in the workers’ compensation process can never be minimized. By cutting lag time throughout the various inefficiencies underlying the industry’s workflows, CorVel can connect injured workers with quality care sooner. As systems advance, claims and managed care associates do not have to spend as much time on administrative work and will instead be able to devote more time to the injured workers, reviving the human touch aspect that is just as impactful within the industry.
Regardless of the technology that lies ahead, CorVel looks to the future with investments in innovation, while not losing sight of their role and responsibility to clients and patients. Dedicated to constant improvement for the services they provide injured workers and industry payors, CorVel is committed to improving industry services one app, click, drone (or whatever is yet to come) at a time – perhaps something to discuss in San Diego at next year’s RIMS conference.
For more information, visit corvel.com.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with CorVel Corporation. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.