Reducing Injured Workers’ Suicide Through Technology

21 Jun, 2012 Bob Wilson


I read today that the Veterans Affairs Department is looking to reduce suicide among veterans with the increased use of technology. Specifically, they hope to “reduce the risk of suicide among veterans by making greater use of video conferences between patients and doctors and by gradually integrating its electronic health records with those maintained by the Defense Department”. I think there are some transferrable ideas to be found in this for the workers' compensation community.

Last year I wrote an article for our “Workers Comp 20/20” series called “Tethered by Wireless – The Future Office Without Walls”. In it I spoke of the impact that wireless portability would bring to our industry. While I outlined a scenario where video conferencing and electronic medical records would be employed, I had not thought of this specific type of use for that mobile platform. It is a great concept, and I applaud the Veterans Affairs Department for its efforts.

I hope they are successful. I am always concerned when a government agency embarks on a technology based mission. Most government agencies must endure a bloated and archaic requisition process that takes so long and so pollutes the original intent that the end result in no way represents the original goals. It is likely the mobile tablet devices produced for this effort will weigh 700 pounds and require a portable nuclear plant to power them (which will have to be requisitioned separately). And the electronic records will be physically shipped on specially designed USB thumb drives – but the rolling mega tablets won't have USB slots that fit them. At any rate, we won't know for 18 years, as that is how long it will take for the requisition process to unfold and completely collapse upon itself.

Regardless, our industry mirrors many of the issues faced by the VA and this is a concept that we can and should embrace. The idea has merit, not just for connecting professionals with those who might be prone to suicide, but for helping those dealing with chronic pain and opioid issues as well. Along that latter point, there have been many unfortunate and questionable deaths of injured workers related to narcotics use in the last few years. Were they accidental? Were they suicide? A better connected industry would be a better informed industry, and some of these tragedies might be avoidable with these technology based methods. It could certainly speed access to critical services for those in need.

That is one motivation for the VA in this effort. It turns out that, while the VA had been reporting that the vast majority of mental evaluations were being conducted within 14 days, an inspector general's investigation found that nearly half of the veterans seeking mental health care for the first time waited about 50 days before getting a full evaluation. Technology, properly employed, can certainly close that gap.

The advantage we have is that the requisition process for many carriers and TPA's (many of whom are our customers – hug, hug, kiss, kiss! Love you guys!) is slightly faster and more efficient than the US governments. This is particularly true with technology acquisitions. If we start now we could get this going by 2020, perfect timing to make our previously mentioned 20/20 series look prescient.

In all seriousness, it is a great idea, a great concept, and I wish the VA well in a fast and successful implementation. And I don't say this often, but I hope our industry will follow their lead. It is a good path to be on.

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