Study Spotlight: The Lasting Legacy of Delayed Injured Worker Treatment During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Non-urgent medical services were suspended across the country in spring 2020 to reserve resources for COVID-19 patients. How is this expected to impact injured worker treatment and associated costs in the long term?

In an unprecedented move for the U.S. health care system, many medical services were halted in spring 2020 to reserve resources for a potential surge of COVID-19 patients. There had been little published on the long-term effects of this on injured workers until the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau of California’s October 2020 report “Cost Impacts of Medical Care Delays in the California Workers’ Compensation System.” In it, the organization analyzed how the suspension of California’s non-urgent medical care in March and April 2020 impacted the state’s workers’ compensation system and its expected influence on claims in the long term.

The study used historical indemnity claim information to examine the implications of first medical service delays on medical and indemnity costs, which were found even four years after injury. The report showed that injured workers with soft tissue injuries whose first medical service was delayed a month had higher indemnity and medical costs that persisted for years. These claims were also more likely to stay open longer, have a longer duration of temporary disability, and involve permanent disability. Similar results were found for other common workers’ compensation diagnoses like low back pain, sprain, and fracture.

Importantly, soft tissue claims with postponed first physical therapy treatment also had significantly higher medical and indemnity costs for years following injury compared to similar claims with no PT delays. These findings reinforce MedRisk’s commitment to helping injured workers receive prompt physical therapy treatment, with an average 4-hour turnaround time from referral to scheduling and just 2.6 days to initial evaluation.

Click here to read the WCIRB’s full report.

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