We live in the age of technology. Robotics and automation are all the rage, and industries everywhere, including workers' compensation, are looking to increase efficiencies and “improve process.” Best practices, definable metrics and big data are all the rage. Some people are even boldly predicting that AI, Artificial Intelligence, will soon assume the full responsibilities for claims handling in our industry.
God help us all.
This past week I met a man who runs a small claims operation in a sparsely populated state. His is a one-state operation, and he is an “old school” claims guy. He believes in the power of face to face interactions, scoffs at the absurdity of “best practices,” and eschews the sterile modernization of today's trendy cost containment measures. His adjustors have an average caseload of 65 files. His litigation rate is so low as to prompt the thought, “Litigation? What litigation?” I would readily identify both him and his company, except for the fact that we are discussing one of his claimants today.
For those of you who are not aware, a “claimant” is something that in other industries is known as a “person” or a “human being.” I know. I was also surprised to learn that.
He told me of an incident one of his adjustors had just experienced. His company was managing the case of an over the road truck driver who experienced a stroke that resulted in a horrific accident. He was ejected from the vehicle and broke many bones in his body. He was flown to a specialty care center in the east to treat his severe injuries (no states will be identified in this story in an effort to respect the privacy of this patient). His physical injuries from the wreck largely healed, but damage from the stroke was extensive. He was eventually transferred to a rehabilitation center out west.
This case was out of the ordinary for this particular claim adjusting firm, as everything had been handled remotely. In a business where they pride themselves on meeting each person they deal with, it was unusual that they had never met this man. As it happened, one of his adjustors went on vacation in the city where he was being treated.
She stopped by to introduce herself and pay him a visit. It did not go as she anticipated.
She found him to be an imposing figure. At 6 feet, 10 inches and around 350 pounds, he was a sizable man. His partial paralysis was quite evident, but he was standing when she arrived. When she told him who she was and the purpose of her visit, he fell to his knees.
More specifically, as it was told to me, he “blubbered like a baby.” As it turns out, despite all he had been through, she was the very first (non-medical) person involved with his case to pay him a personal visit. He had not heard from his employer since the accident. He had never heard from anyone at the insurance company. He had felt quite alone, when this adjustor from a small company a thousand miles away just stopped in to say hello. I understand it was an emotional moment for all involved.
It seems in this day and age that we often forget that the file on the desk is a human being with needs beyond a paycheck and medical treatment. They need to be touched, they need to be heard, and they need to be seen. Most importantly, their humanity must be acknowledged.
This was a moment of humanity in a sea of the everyday routine. It is a powerful reminder that process alone will not convey our industry in a positive light. It is in the raw and unvarnished world of human emotion that we can make our greatest strides towards a positive outcome; yet we seem bound and determined to extricate ourselves from as much personal contact as possible. For those of us agitating for a culture of advocacy-based claims, it makes no sense.
Technology is important and can be a tremendous tool to aid in our efforts. But it is not a panacea. It will never replace the importance of human contact and compassionate care; the fabled human touch. We must strive to re-incorporate that into a system where the current players have become vastly overworked and for which they no longer have the time.
If we fail to heed that lesson, the end we create could be our own.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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Bob is an accomplished speaker for the workers' compensation industry. He is available for conferences, corporate events, children's birthday parties and Bar Mitzvahs. You may access his Speakers Brief here.