Technology has made it easier to access health care services. Telemedicine, or telehealth, allows patients to meet with medical providers over the computer or phone, without the need for an in-person office visit.
If you are dealing with a personal injury, workers’ compensation, or Social Security disability claim, telemedicine can be a valuable tool. There might be instances, though, where it’s better to physically meet with a doctor.
The Rise of Telehealth Services
Telemedicine was originally a way to provide health care to rural communities. But when the pandemic hit, laws around telehealth services were loosened to expand medical care through virtual doctor visits.
Telehealth services vastly expanded during the pandemic, and both patients and doctors want to continue using telemedicine.
Telehealth improves access to care, is more convenient, slows the spread of infection, and is often cheaper than traditional health care. It is particularly beneficial for patients who have limited mobility or poor immune systems, or who do not live near major medical centers. In Ohio, for example, about 20% of the state lives in nonmetro areas, where it may be harder to access primary care doctors.
Use of telehealth expanded dramatically in Ohio and nationwide during COVID lockdowns and continues its upward trajectory post-pandemic. According to the CDC, 37% of adults used telemedicine in 2021—nearly double the number who used it pre-pandemic. A survey from the American Medical Association found that nearly 80% of patients were very satisfied with the quality of care from their last telehealth visit.
Telemedicine and Personal Injury Claims
Ohio’s Telemedicine Expansion Act, which made temporary pandemic telehealth rules permanent, took effect on March 23, 2022. The Act expands telemedicine services, imposes telehealth cost controls, and gives greater flexibility to patients and providers in the telehealth setting.
This is good news for people dealing with personal injury claims, who benefit from telehealth in the following ways:
- See a provider, including a specialist, regardless of your location
- Immediate and on-demand access to medical care
- No travel costs for doctor visits
- Receive prescriptions and physical therapy without having to physically see a provider
The upshot of these telehealth benefits is that they reduce gaps in treatment that could otherwise undermine your recovery. Not having treatment gaps can also help you to substantiate your personal injury claim and maximize compensation.
Telemedicine and Workers’ Compensation
The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) permits telehealth to deliver care to injured workers. BWC expanded telehealth services amid the COVID-19 pandemic and some of these temporary policies remain permanent.
The BWC maintains a list of designated telemedicine services that include evaluation and management services (i.e., diagnosing treating injury or illness) and psychotherapy services.
However, some of the temporary telehealth measures have been lifted or modified. For example, if you were receiving vocational rehabilitation services via telehealth prior to August 16, 2021, you may continue to do so. But new vocational rehab services requested on or after that date must be performed in-person.
Many workers have recently made the switch to work from home at least part of the time. Ohio workers’ comp may cover work from home injury claims, but they can be more complicated.
Telemedicine and Social Security Disability
To qualify for Social Security Disability (SSD), you must receive a disability determination from the Social Security Administration (SSA). As part of this process, a claims examiner may require you to undergo a medical consultation to obtain additional patient information.
In 2020, SSA passed temporary measures allowing telehealth consultations for psychiatric and psychological impairments. SSA updated this policy in 2022 to include speech and language impairments. Patients may only undergo a telehealth consultation if they are unable to access an in-person consultation for approved reasons.
While you may not be able to receive a consultation for non-approved conditions and reasons, you can still use telemedicine to meet with your doctors and gather medical evidence for your SSD claim. As long as SSA considers your provider an acceptable source, a telemedicine record is valid evidence.
Getting Help With Your Claim
Telemedicine can make it easier to receive a medical diagnosis, obtain treatment, and support your injury or disability claim. But it does have shortcomings. There may be cases where an in-person physical examination is preferable to a virtual health appointment. For some conditions, the insurance company could argue that telehealth findings are insufficient because no physical exam or tests were performed.
If you have questions about Ohio telehealth laws or the use of telemedicine in your case, our lawyers are here to help. We offer free consultations in our Zanesville office, by phone, and over video chat.