No Noticeable Pandemic-Related Delay in Medical Treatment for Injured Workers for Non-COVID-19 Claims, Finds New WCRI Study

A new study from the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) investigates patterns of medical care access and utilization that are specific to workers’ compensation during the first quarters of 2020 to understand how the timing and delivery of medical treatment were impacted by the pandemic.

“In our previous work, we examined the effect of the spread of COVID-19 along with the accompanying massive decline in economic activity on workers’ compensation claim composition. In this report, we continue examining the impact of the pandemic on workers’ compensation, shifting our attention to the timing and patterns of medical care delivery,” said John Ruser, president and CEO of WCRI.

The main focus of the study, The Early Impact of COVID-19 on Medical Treatment for Workers’ Compensation Non-COVID-19 Claims, is on non-COVID-19 lost-time claims with injury dates in the first two quarters of 2019 (pre-pandemic) or 2020 (pandemic period). The following is a sample of the study’s major findings:

  • Claims with injury dates in the first two quarters of 2020 did not experience any noticeable delay in medical treatment as compared with the waiting time for claims with injuries in the first two quarters of 2019. In fact, several service types showed some slight improvement in waiting time from injury to medical treatment—in particular, for claims with injuries in the second quarter of 2020, emergency room services, physical medicine, major surgery, and neurological and neuromuscular testing were provided sooner.
  • In states hit hardest by the pandemic during the study period (Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey), patients sustaining work-related injuries during the early months of the pandemic did not have longer waiting times before getting medical treatment across eight service groups. There was shorter duration for select service types. In particular, major surgery on average happened sooner—2020Q2 claims had about a 5-day shorter waiting time than 2019Q2 claims, with the average number of days decreasing from 16.3 days to 11.7 days from injury to major surgery.
  • Fractures and lacerations/contusions occurring in the first half of 2020 and 2019 did not have statistically different times before first medical services for most service types, except for a slightly shorter time before emergency services in 2020. In particular, for lacerations and contusions occurring in the second quarter of 2020, time to emergency services decreased from 0.6 days to 0.4 days on average.
  • For soft-tissue claims with injury dates in the first two quarters of 2020, no substantial delay in treatment for most services was observed, with some exceptions. The average number of days to major surgery increased for other non-spinal sprains and strains occurring in the first quarter of 2020—an increase of about 3 days, from 57 days in 2019 to 60 days in 2020.
  • For lost-time claims with injury dates in the first two quarters of 2020, the shares of claims across eight types of services remained largely the same as the two first quarters of 2019. However, the study reports a 4-percentage point drop in the share of claims with emergency room services, which is consistent with the expectation that people would want to avoid going to the emergency room because of fear of virus contraction.

This study also examines the effect of the pandemic on timing of care for existing claims—claims with injury dates in the third and fourth quarters of 2019 as compared with experiences for claims with injury dates in the third and fourth quarters of 2018. This analysis includes non-COVID-19 claims with paid medical services for private sector workers and local government employees. The study tracks changes in key measures describing medical service utilization patterns for workers injured in 27 states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. These study states represent 68 percent of the workers’ compensation benefits paid in the United States.

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