Physical Medicine and Workers’ Comp

As the leading provider of managed physical medicine for the workers’ compensation industry, MedRisk has always been dedicated to understanding and advancing industry best practices. Our commitment to delivering better return-to-work success for patients, providers and employers requires MedRisk to stay responsive to treatment and technology trends. We’ve compiled some of the more meaningful changes we’ve seen in the wider community over the last year, as well as the changes MedRisk has made in response to where we see managed physical medicine for workers’ comp going next.

MedRisk by the Numbers



100 %






98.1 %


The 5-Year Shift in Managed Physical Medicine

Conservative Care


MedRisk has seen a significant reduction in post-surgical cases for low back pain—a trend that is in line with the rise of a conservative care-first approach to improve outcomes and reduce costs.

Opioid Epidemic


Opioid misuse has ballooned to epidemic proportions since 2013. PT is now recommended by the CDC as the preferred first treatment for chronic pain and an effective alternative to opioids in many cases.

Patient Education


Research over the last five years has validated the importance of patient education in driving positive outcomes, efficient return to work and cost savings. PT sessions often play an essential educational role.

Research & Insights

Cost Analysis of Telerehabilitation Following ASD Surgery

Research comparing costs related to telerehabilitation versus conventional physiotherapy following arthroscopic subacromial decompression surgery suggests telerehab offers a viable a way to reduce the overall cost of patient care and provide a more accessible path to recovery. Telerehabilitation reduced the post-surgical ASD treatment costs to patients and healthcare providers by 29.8%.

This study adds an economic assessment to the growing body of clinical evidence in support of telerehabilitation.


ATA Updates 4 Key Treatment Guidelines

ATA Telerehabilitation Special Interest Group (SIG), which consists of healthcare practitioners and technology specialists, made key updates to the guidelines document for Telerehabilitation. These updates include:

  • clarification on scope and definitions;
  • expanded administrative principles, including use of an informed consent and consideration of billing and coding within different types of reimbursement models;
  • enhanced clinical principles; and
  • updated technical principles.


Telerehabilitation and the Injured Worker: A Practical Guide

The workers’ compensation industry is set to experience its next technological evolution: Telerehabilitation. Innovative companies, clinicians and managed physical medicine organizations are complementing hands-on PT with the latest advances in telerehab to great success. Patients and payers alike are seeing practical benefits such as:

  • Better Access to Care
  • Reduced Costs
  • Improved Compliance
  • Faster Time to Treatment

To successfully apply telerehabilitation in today’s workers’ comp environments, however, requires some specific knowledge. The latest guide from MedRisk includes the information you need.


Physical Therapy Increases Functionality of Hands with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy published a study testing the effectiveness of manual therapy compared to surgery on the functionality of hands with carpal tunnel syndrome. Studying a year of either treatment, the trial found differences between the two modes of treatment. Manual therapy (like physical therapy) had patients seeing recovery results in function in as little as one month into consistent treatment.


Early Physical Therapy for Non-traumatic Knee Pain Could Reduce Likelihood of Narcotics Use

A study published in the journal Physical Therapy found that early physical therapy for patients with non-traumatic knee pain (NTKP) was linked to a lower use of opioids and surgery. NTKP is common in adults 65+ and evidence-based guidelines recommend early use of rehabilitation, but with limited access to information about these options, some turn to narcotics for treatment.

Exposure to early outpatient rehabilitation resources for NTKP patients was associated with lower odds of narcotics use. Not only that, but an early referral for outpatient rehabilitative services means reducing overall costs and length of treatment.


Physical Therapy for Low Back Pain Results in Substantial Cost Savings

Beneficiaries newly diagnosed with low back pain that receive physical therapy for their first type of treatment incur fewer costs when it comes to Medicare A/B, on average. In the time surrounding diagnosis and in the years following, patients who chose PT over injections or surgeries reduce the average total Medicare costs. That cost is significantly lower when those same patients begin therapy within 45 days of their diagnosis.

This study outlines the effects of therapy on low back pain and the benefits and cost-saving capabilities when PT is chosen as the first line of defense.


Legislative Recap


MedRisk gathers the latest legislative and regulatory developments and challenges each quarter. Here is a full summary of significant movements in 2017 and the implications for 2018.

CA Institutes Timely Bill Submission Requirements

For services after January 1, 2017, the new statute time-bars provider bills that aren’t received within 12 months of the date of service or hospital discharge.

California did not have a timely bill law previously; establishing this puts payers’ internal payment policies and contractual agreements with providers and networks into question. The DWC is authorized to adopt rules and implement the 12-month limit, including reasonable exceptions.

Virginia Changes FS Starting January 2018

Virginia’s customized fee schedule will go into effect January 1, 2018, replacing a system based solely on provider charges. One of the principal legislative goals in creating the fee schedule is to reduce the volume of provider fee disputes. The fee schedule uses six geographic “medical communities” and seven provider groups. Physical and occupational therapy are included within the “Providers of Outpatient Services” group along with chiropractic, dental, acupuncture and ambulance services.

According to the ground rules governing the establishment of the fee schedules, “fee schedules were designed to achieve revenue neutrality within each provider group and medical community combination.”

A preliminary review completed by MedRisk, however, suggests that for some prominent PT services within major metropolitan areas, the regulatory “maximum fee” will be appreciably lower than pre-fee schedule payments.

Texas Gains Greater Control Over Work-hardening and Work-conditioning Programs

Texas enacted legislation to give the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) greater control over work-hardening and work-conditioning programs.

The Senate Bill 1494 removes automatic exemption from pre-authorization and concurrent review which CARF-credentialed facilities previously enjoyed. Effective September 1, 2017, the amendment permits the DWC to reinstate exemptions for certified facilities if the agency determines exemptions are appropriate.

These programs were targeted by the DWC as potential sources of fraud and abuse, so the removal of the exemption gives the DWC regulatory discretion to set standards to control costs and prevent excessive or unnecessary treatments.

MD Establishes One-year Bill Submission Period for Providers

Legislature was recently established that created a one-year bill submission period for MD providers, where there previously wasn’t one.

Starting October 1, 2017, the date will be extended to 12 months from what used to be a date of service, the acceptance of the claim by the payer or the determination of compensability by the Commission. The period can be extended to three years if the WC Commission finds there is good cause for the delay.

Massachusetts Changes Regulations for UR

The Department of Industrial Accidents has revised the regulation governing WC Utilization Review, which affects them by:

  • removing the requirement for UR agents to submit applications to OHP for each site where MA UR is conducted,
  • requiring determination letters specify recommendations included in the guideline and
  • updating the timeframe for retro appeals to 20 business days.

The DIA’s Office of Health Policy heavily regulates these detailed and unique requirements. As such, payers should review the revised version of 452 CMR 6.00.

Colorado Adopts New Regulations for Telemedicine

Colorado’s Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) adopted regulations defining acceptable standards for telemedicine. The DWC Utilization Standards now require the use of audio and video equipment during telemedicine sessions for the provider to diagnose and evaluate more effectively. Using these tools, therapists are expected to alter the treatment plan, medications and any specialized therapies.

Colorado DWC is shifting its focus to telemedicine that puts a unique emphasis on worker rehabilitation and return-to-functionality. The creation of these regulations shapes the emergence of telemedicine as an effective and efficient claims management system.

AZ Moves to RBRVS for Medical Payments

The Industrial Commission of Arizona adopted a new fee schedule based on Medicare’s Resource-based Relative Value Scale that applies for services rendered on or after October 1, 2017. Not included in the final rule is an earlier staff recommendation that would require networks to pay participating providers participating at 90% of either the fee schedule rate or of the full amount of any negotiated discount rate payable to the network.

Pennsylvania Suspends Independent Rating Evaluations

The Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation responded to a PA Supreme Court decision invalidating the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment as a standard for disability ratings by suspending all independent rating evaluations.

Prior Trends Reports