Study shows no significant delay in workers’ compensation care early in COVID-19 pandemic.
A new study from the Workers Compensation Research Institute, titled “The Early Impact of COVID-19 on Medical Treatment for Workers Compensation Non-COVID-19 Claims,” found virtually no delays in treatment during the first two quarters of the pandemic.
The report aimed to “investigate patterns of medical care access and utilization that are specific to workers’ compensation in the first quarters of 2020.”
Chief among the report’s key findings is that “claims with injury dates during the first two quarters of 2020 experienced no noticeable delays in medical treatment compared to wait times for claims with injury during the first two quarters of 2019”.
In fact, the study found slightly shorter wait times for several types of services in processing lost-time injury claims, including emergency services, physical medicine, major surgery and neurological/neuromuscular testing, as well as shorter wait times between injury and emergency. care services for lost time claims with injury dates in Q1 2020 versus Q1 2019 claims.
“The main takeaway from this report is that workers who suffered injuries in the first two quarters of 2020 [did] experienced no notable delays in medical treatment compared to the first two quarters of 2019,” said study author Dr. Olesya Fomenko.
Fomenko added, “Our main findings are potentially surprising, given that over the period of our study, the decline in medical care used by the general public was substantial and universal.”
The report cites other studies showing that by the end of the second quarter of 2020, about 41% of American adults had delayed or avoided emergency and routine care.
“Several recent studies have found evidence in the first half of 2020 of significant delays, avoidance or reduction in medical care among people with group insurance,” Fomenko said.
“So it’s likely that the general public expected to see similar trends for workers’ compensation patients.”
Reasons for a lack of delays
One of the possible causes of the lack of delays was the reduction in the volume of complaints.
“In a previous WCRI report, we show that the volume of non-COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims declined significantly in the second quarter of 2020,” Fomenko said.
“The majority of states have seen declines of at least 30%, and up to 50% in Massachusetts. Factors such as a sharp reduction in employment, a substantial shift to remote working, and the decision to not seeking treatment for less serious injuries, most likely decreased injury rates and claim behaviors, and therefore overall demand for health services from non-COVID-19 workers’ compensation patients.
Although outside the scope of the report, Fomenko also pointed out that “on the other hand, stay-at-home orders could have led to increased wait times.”
Other possible factors also include reduced consumer demand for free health care from non-workers.
The report states that “During the first half of 2020, delays in and avoidance of medical care were common among the general public, as noted by a CDC study – as of June 30, 2020, approximately 41% of American adults had delayed or avoided medical care, including urgent or emergency care (12%) and routine care (32%), due to concerns about COVID-19.
“Additionally, and in the early months of the pandemic, with the adoption of stay-at-home orders, visits to medical offices decreased by 70-80%…In the early months of the pandemic, decreases in services medical devices used by the general public were substantial and universal.
Such reluctance may have caused patients of disabled workers with less serious injuries to delay treatment, so that among those who sought treatment, a disproportionate number had more serious and more urgent injuries.
“In our previous study of the early impact of COVID-19 on the composition of workers’ compensation claims, we reported an increase in the share of lost-time claims among non-COVID-19 claims,” Fomenko said.
“This could indicate patients who on average have a higher severity and a more urgent need for medical treatment.”
Which injuries were the most common?
However, the study points out that the types of injuries remained constant in 10 categories: fractures, hand lacerations, inflammation, knee disorders, lacerations and contusions, neurological pain, spinal sprains/strains, other sprains/strains, skin and others.
“Even though the pandemic had a dramatic effect on the volume of non-COVID-19 WC claims for most states in the study, the composition of injuries remains largely unaffected by the outbreak,” the study states.
The study found similar stability in the types of services used by workers’ compensation patients.
“For lost-time claims with injury dates in the first two quarters of 2020, the share of claims with eight service types remained largely stable compared to the care patterns for the first two quarters of 2019.”
The services examined were: “assessment and management, emergency care, physical medicine, neurological and neuromuscular testing, pain management injections, major surgery, major radiology and minor radiology “.
Exceptions to this include a 4% drop in the share of complaints to emergency departments, which the report said “is in line with the expectation that people would avoid going to the emergency room for fear of ‘a contraction of the virus’.
In the first quarter of 2020 compared to the first quarter of 2019, there was also a 3% decrease in major surgery claims and a 2% decrease in pain management claims and major radiology claims.
The study also looked at the number of visits to healthcare providers by comp patients.
“We also looked at the impact of the pandemic on the number of unique visits for assessment and management, physical medicine, and minor radiology – the only service types with non-negligible frequencies of multiple visits,” a- he declared. “In all analyzed subgroups of WC complaints, we found no change in the average number of visits for these three types of services.”
The study looked at 27 states, representing 68% of paid worker benefits in the United States. Learn more about the study or download a copy here. &