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Paduda: COVID-Related Treatment Delays

  • National

Didn’t happen.

Joe Paduda

Joe Paduda

That’s the result of a just-published study conducted by Olesya Fomenko, one of Workers Compensation Research Institute's talented researchers.

Not only were there no delays during the first half of 2020, when the pandemic was raging, but there was a slight improvement in waiting times for some services. This may have been due to non-COVID patients actively avoiding medical treatment facilities (that’s my speculation, not Fomenko’s).

This was true even in states hit hard in the early months of the pandemic. Of note, the waiting time for surgeries decreased by a third.

The same held for pretty much all injury types: soft tissue injuries, fractures, lacerations, you name it — none had delays in treatment. 

The report documents decreases in emergency room visits in the second quarter of 2020 for lost-time claims. Again, this may well be due to patient reluctance to go where COVID may be present. It’s also a reminder that all employers should do everything they can to ensure workers with non-emergent injuries do not seek treatment at ERs.

ERs are way more expensive than occupational medical clinics, often exhibit abusive billing practices, don’t understand workers’ comp and are where sick people go.

Other findings:

  • Non-COVID claims plummeted in the 27 study states during the second quarter of 2020.
  • There was little difference in the type of injuries incurred during COVID’s worst times.

There’s a lot more in the 63-page report, but my main takeaway is this: I was pretty sure there would be treatment delays, and that was wrong.

Sure, logically my assumption made sense: People would avoid care because they were scared of being near COVID patients. And that was certainly true for most medical care; visits to doctors’ offices dropped 70% to 80%.

But that “logical” assumption didn’t take into account that when you get a nasty cut, fall off a ladder or break your leg, you need medical care.

What does this mean for you?

Question your assumptions.

Joseph Paduda is co-owner of CompPharma, a consulting firm focused on improving pharmacy programs in workers’ compensation. This column is republished with his permission from his Managed Care Matters blog.

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