Experts Predict Use of Technology in Workers' Comp Will Surge in 2011
With technology moving at the speed of light -- or faster -- it's not surprising that even the usually technology leery workers' comp industry is starting to jump on the bandwagon of new software solutions, social media, and smartphones to conduct business. Where 2010 was the year that saw literally thousands of workers' comp participants enter the once-frightening world of LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, 2011 may be the year of the iPad.
"I think you'll start seeing these tablet devices impacting the industry in the next couple of years -- those that understand the potential," said Robert Wilson, president and CEO of WorkersCompensation.com. "It's amazing what devices like that can do."
Despite being on the forefront of technological advancements in workers' comp, Wilson was skeptical of using the AppleŽ notepad device for business . . . until shortly after its release when he saw someone at a conference use one to download PDFs, scan documents, and read news online.
"Now my iPad is my most common traveling device," Wilson said. "I can access web servers, access my desktop computer, print reports; I even process payroll remotely."
The potential of mobile computing could be limitless. It allows for virtual workers' comp management from just about anywhere.
"It can be used for injury reporting and being able to access data analytics right from your phone or iPad," said Karen Wolfe, president and CEO of MedMetrics in Oregon. "It's very powerful because of the access. You can access anywhere, anytime with the tools you already have."
Both Wilson and Wolfe say the tools already exist to make workers' comp faster and easier. The key is to start embracing new technologies instead of shying away from them.
Making the most of technology.
"There are lots of opportunities for workers' comp," Wolfe said. "The main opportunity I see is in the area of computing and software as a solution."
Wolfe says workers' comp participants can better utilize available technologies to improve data management -- integrating it and analyzing it for insights. But doing that may require a major cultural change at many companies.
"I think workers' comp, IT management, and executive management need to get over the idea of 'not invented here,' a concept that means it's no good if it's not invented here," she said. "If they're really going to step in and take advantage of new technology, they'll have to begin to get over that approach of 'we have to build it ourselves.' There are so many great solutions."
Wolfe advocates making a commitment to doing the basics of data management, such as data mining and insisting on data quality. She believes too many companies avoid data analyses and miss opportunities that newer technologies create.
"Now that the medical portion is 60 percent of the claim, they need to get into some real medical analytics," Wolfe said. "People are a little afraid of that, or they just don't have the internal knowledge to do that. But this is where the action needs to be in terms of predictive analytics."
Companies also need to take an additional step -- driving the analytics to operations, Wolfe said.
"It's not good enough just to do a lot of analysis and put it on beautiful spreadsheets; it has to impact operations," she said. "That's under a concept of 'knowledge management'-- what do you do with this? They have a gold mine of data available, but they haven't capitalized on that. Once they do, they have the abilities to drive those analyses."
Experts say the workers' comp-related companies that don't adopt some of the newer technologies will be at a disadvantage, but some will find it more difficult than others.
"I think the challenge is not necessarily big versus small companies; it's in terms of their willingness to accept and adopt and properly manage," Wilson said.
Wilson is concerned that some companies may adopt technologies that require their employees to maintain access 24/7 and won't allow for any downtime, resulting in employee burnout. However, he believes technology offers significant advantages to the workers' comp system.
"I think the benefit to the system is in the management and movement of information. It's going to allow for more accurate information to be distributed further and wider than current methods allow," Wilson said. "A big complaint now is getting people to return phone calls. If they can be more accessible or able to access files remotely, it certainly will help streamline the information process."
Companies that have held off purchasing new technologies because of the recession may change their tunes in 2011. "As the economy begins to free up, you'll see increased investments in technology that were waylaid by the economy," Wilson said. "I think there's a pent-up demand."
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
January 24, 2011
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