JEFF NINOWSKI, a risk management and claims program manager for CSC with more than 20 years of experience in risk and insurance business solutions and operations
Through the years, we've witnessed many ways technology can completely revolutionize risk management and claims processes. Most organizations, though, have placed more attention on their back-end systems than on the all-important front end--the incident reporting process.
Even today, many self-insured organizations are relying on paper forms to report incidents and potential claims to a central risk management office. This reliance on paper isn't surprising. Paper forms are still fairly easy to manage for organizations with relatively centralized facilities.
According to a recent Forrester report, 95 percent of information management professionals responsible for information capture still rely on a multifunction printer to scan paper documents, while 62 percent of them said they rely on electronic forms. Some organizations with far-flung operations typically provide employees a toll-free hotline number, yet the reporting process is still only as good as the form used by the person on the other end of the line.
The introduction of Web-based smart forms with guided workflow has truly revolutionized the reporting and tracking process for a wide range of companies, government entities and third-party administrators (TPAs). Not only are they responding to potential claims faster, but they're also getting more complete information that actually helps prevent future claims.
FREEING UP VALUABLE RESOURCES
While smaller organizations may be able to get by with using traditional incident intake forms, larger ones with multiple locations or divisions really can't do the job efficiently with a paper form.
In a slip-and-fall incident with a traditional form, for example, the employee at the incident location must fill out the form correctly and submit it by fax or mail to the risk management office. A clerk must then retype the information and possibly follow up with the employee to fill in missing information. Even worse, it may take weeks for the form to arrive because it's sitting on the desk of an on-site manager awaiting review and approval. Even with a toll-free number, the reporting process ties up valuable call center or risk management resources. Unfortunately, both methods can potentially introduce errors into the data.
Self-insured companies such as healthcare groups and retailers with numerous locations were among the first to experiment with more sophisticated incident reporting programs. And while the idea of giving employees a Web form to report incidents is nothing new, the technology supporting these online forms has never been better.
INTEGRATING SAFETY AND LOSS PREVENTION
Today's Web forms are smart forms, which means they capture all relevant information using as little free-form text as possible. Giving employees drop-down menu choices instead of freeform fields helps ensure the integrity of the information in your database for tracking and analysis. Further, these forms use guided workflow to prompt employees with relevant questions about the incident and ensure the form is filled out completely.
In addition to capturing basic information such as time, date and location, smart forms can capture data about the factors contributing to the incident and corrective action taken. For example, if someone slips and falls on a stairway because of a missing handrail, the form lets the risk management office know if and when maintenance workers were notified to repair the handrail.
Smart incident intake forms can also help ensure compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. A new form in place in for the county of Ramsey in Minnesota reminds employees and supervisors of the need to provide additional paperwork to comply with OSHA regulations for cases involving blood exposure to law enforcement or medical personnel. In the past, a variety of paper incident forms were submitted to the county's central risk management office, where they were re-entered into an aging consultant-developed system operating in a DOS environment.
Greg Anderson, claims administrator for Ramsey County Human Resources, said he remembers working on developing the old system some 20 years ago as a new hire to the county. After returning to the county many years later, he was surprised to find the same system still in place.
"Over the years, different people had input incidents using various terms, so there was no consistency and no way to get meaningful reports out of the system," Anderson said. "We really needed a whole new system that provided greater access to claims data and a higher level of efficiency overall."
With a new claims system and new incident reporting forms in place, Ramsey County, which employs more than 4,000 people in 26 different departments, can now track potential perils such as missing road signs, faulty equipment or unsafe practices--before they become incidents and potential claims against the county. This approach helps organizations like Ramsey county tightly integrate risk management and safety programs and move from a reactive mode to a preventative one.
CAPTURING THE RIGHT INFORMATION
Another major benefit of smart forms is the flexibility to fine-tune the form to make sure you're capturing the right information. For example, a grocery store chain can track incidents related to mopping the floors. Power companies can track which electrical substations or transmission lines are causing the most power outages. And healthcare organizations can prevent professional liability claims by tracking worker training and adherence to proper procedures.
The most common mistake organizations make is trying to recreate the paper form online. The process of creating an online form helps organizations re-evaluate existing paper forms to ensure they're providing the data needed, making it as easy as possible to enter that data. In addition to using standardized, best practices for forms, organizations must also tailor them to their specific workplaces. Taking the time to design and deploy the proper form can generate a wealth of data.
Covenant Health, for example, went from tracking seven categories of incidents to 22 with its smart form. In addition to documenting slip-and-fall injuries, the form also identifies incidents related to clinical activities, the workplace or equipment. There's even an "other" category, but unlike the paper form, the field cannot be left blank. These forms can ensure the proper information is being captured for workers' compensation claims for its TPA, as well as for general liability claims that are processed in-house.
According to Kevin O'Bryant, Covenant Health's corporate risk support services manager, new incidents are routed to the risk management department at the same time they are sent to the department manager.
"A faster response makes all the difference in the world," he said. "The investigation takes place sooner, and we can interview individuals involved in the incident while their memories are still fresh."
Smart forms really are a, well, smarter way of managing incident reporting. The next time you review your risk and claims program, take a long, hard look at the forms and processes you have in place. It could be time to join the revolution.
May 1, 2010
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