case management during coronavirus

Caring in the midst of a crisis: Re-examining workers’ compensation case management during COVID-19

In the wake of COVID-19 healthcare professionals worldwide are experiencing drastic changes in how they work and care for their patients – changes which not only impact hospital and acute care professionals,  but changes with rippling impacts to health care providers in varying fields including nurse case management. Whether facing a global pandemic, or an equally significant crisis, the ability to adapt is critical for patient recovery and care. After more than a month of shelter-in-place protocols, MLCC takes a moment to re-examine workers’ compensation nurse case management and how we’re ensuring our patients continue to receive the attention and care they need for recovery.

As workers’ compensation, or field nurse case managers, our primary role is not direct care. Instead we are commissioned to assess, plan, facilitate, coordinate care, evaluate and advocate options and services to meet an individual’s and family’s comprehensive health needs.[i] During a crisis, our mission does not change yet, how we deliver and manage our cases just might. Within workers’ compensation, we’re often treating individuals with emergent injuries or illnesses, and elective treatments may not appear critical in the face of those directly affected by the crisis. However, our goals remain focused on the improvement and healing of our patients, and here’s how we’re doing it:

1. Finding alternative methods of treatment

Our patients and the care they need is our priority. When customary modes of treatment are not available, nurse case managers must find alternative solutions such as replacing in-office provider visits with telehealth visits and video appointments. Physicians, physical and occupational therapist are still able to provide orders, update treatment plans, provide treatment, and more through video conferencing features of telehealth software platforms.

2. Finding alternative care providers and alternative methods of care delivery

As nurse case managers within workers’ compensation, finding alternative care providers and alternative methods of care delivery is something we do every day in practice.  When one door is closed there is always another that is open. At MLCC, once regional shelter-in-place and stay at home orders were executed we immediately developed an evolving list of providers that were open and confirmed the level of services they had available. If certain caregivers were closed and unavailable, alternative treatment sites and treatment providers were identified.

telehealth in workers' compensation case management

For our existing patients, we immediately reassessed diagnosis and whether any new complications or risk for complications were identified while continuing treatments put in place by their care providers through video appointments and telehealth conference calls.

When new patients were referred, with new or evolving injuries/illnesses, physicians were identified, and visits facilitated as needed. As with all patient visits during this time of crisis, appointments were completed in person with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) or through telehealth platforms and video conferencing until the pandemic is under control.

3. Exploring varying options for testing

During times of crisis usual and customary standards of care and case management may not be available. In the Northeast region we found that provider offices may be closed for patients, but open for specific services, or even transformed into COVID-19 testing centers. As case managers we rely on our relationships with our providers and are consistently exploring the varying options available to our patients.

Let’s consider an example case where a patient who has been diagnosed with a fracture and needs an evaluation of the injury. The evaluation has been delayed due to the shutdown of offices but can no longer be postponed. Even though the physician’s office is closed, their x-ray office may be open, and their treating physician is requesting an x-ray.

However, amid the current crisis the x-ray department is now a known COVID-19 evaluation and treatment center. That patient, who is severely compromised, may be put at risk in that center. An alternate site would be found, orders facilitated, and the treatment scheduled by the nurse case manager to decrease risk of the patient contracting COVID-19.

Having the ability to continue managing our cases and securing varying options is the responsibility of the nurse and by doing so decreases the anxiety the patient may have around their treatments and care.

4. Connecting patients with the appropriate resources

As health care professionals, our focus always includes the prevention of further complications, or contamination in the case of COVID-19, of patients and their families while getting them resources and services they need for recovery. In the wake of the current pandemic this includes nurses wearing appropriate PPE’s and taking precautions during patient visits, at therapy appointments, or out in the community.

personal protective equipment

It also means connecting our patients with protective equipment, masks and gloves, when attending appointments in their physician’s or provider’s office. Continuing to educate and provide supplies goes a long way in minimizing risk of possible contamination.

Managing hypertension as a co-morbidity in workers compensation

Hypertension and workers’ compensation case management: Three strategies for improving patient and claim outcomes

In January 2018, the American Heart Association published an estimate that 103 million U.S. adults have high blood pressure, which accounts for nearly half of all adults in the United States[i]. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can lead to severe health complications and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and sometimes death. With such a high occurrence of U.S. adults having high blood pressure, it is not surprising that hypertension is the most prevalent comorbidity within workers’ compensation claims[ii]. In this issue of INSIGHT, we explore hypertension within workers’ compensation, and three nurse case management strategies to improve patient and claim outcomes.

When managing any type of diagnosis, a preexisting health condition has the potential to impede upon the individual’s recovery. Comorbidities can prolong the claim and have been known to increase the risk of complications. In a study by Harbor Health Systems it was found that “claims associated with comorbid conditions experienced longer claims duration, higher medical costs, more temporary total disability (TTD) days and increased litigation and surgery rates.[iii]

Given the prevalence of high blood pressure, it is important for nurse case managers to understand the underlying effect the condition has had on the individual’s body and develop a plan to reduce complications on the present injury or illness being treated. An effective approach to managing workers’ compensation patients with hypertension requires early identification, education to mitigate further complications, and consistent management.

Indentification

Hypertension in workers compensation

High blood pressure usually has no symptoms, and many adults are unaware they have the condition. The Centers for Disease Control reported that over 46% of adults worldwide don’t know they have hypertension[iv]. In workers’ compensation case management, it is critical that the nurse is skilled in identifying underlying comorbidities or other conditions which may interfere with the individual’s recovery.

When a patient presents with pain don’t assume the source of the pain is only the injury. Oftentimes symptoms of untreated or substandard treatment of high blood pressure produces symptoms which can mimic other conditions, such as headaches and migraines, pain, anxiety, and more. It is important that the nurse case manager includes an assessment of blood pressure to rule out high blood pressure as the underlying cause.

It’s is also important to consider the impact an individual’s emotions can have on their blood pressure. We frequently observe a patient’s blood pressure elevated by simply attending their doctor’s appointments.  The claimant may also have anxieties surrounding missed work or other life stressors resulting in higher than normal blood pressure. Appropriate identification and follow-up with the patient’s primary care provider is critical. Sometimes, something as simple as recommending the patient keep a blood pressure log to review and share with the primary care provider.

Mitigation through education

High blood pressure can quietly damage an individual’s body for years before being diagnosed. If the claimant was unaware that they had high blood pressure or don’t understand the impact high blood pressure can have on their injury or illness, proper treatment and patient education is key to mitigating further complications.

Education helps patients better understand their condition, the role of medication and lifestyle changes as well as increasing awareness about the progression of high blood pressure and complications.[v] Comorbidities such as hypertension are not compensable, yet poor treatment regimens, and out of control blood pressure can affect the compensable injury or illness of the claim.

References: 

[i] More than 100 million Americans have high blood pressure, AHA says. (2018). Www.Heart.Org. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/05/01/more-than-100-million-americans-have-high-blood-pressure-aha-says

[ii] Laws, C., & Colon, D. (2012). Comorbidities in Workers Compensation. https://www.ncci.com/Articles/Pages/II_research-brief-comorbidities-in-workers-compensation-2012.pdf

[iii] New Research Shows Impact of Underlying Conditions on Workers’ Compensation Claims. (2011). Harborhealthsystems.Com. https://harborhealthsystems.com/new-research-shows-impact-of-underlying-conditions-on-workers-compensation-claims/

[iv] Carey, R. M., Muntner, P., Bosworth, H. B., & Whelton, P. K. (2018). Prevention and Control of Hypertension. Journal of the American College of Cardiology72(11), 1278–1293. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2018.07.008

[v] Ribeiro, C. D., Resqueti, V. R., Lima, I., Dias, F. A. L., Glynn, L., & Fregonezi, G. A. F. (2015). Educational interventions for improving control of blood pressure in patients with hypertension: a systematic review protocol. BMJ Open5(3), e006583–e006583. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006583

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