It has been a difficult year for public health in our region. The Washington State Department of Health reports that more than 227,000 cases of the COVID-19 virus have been confirmed as of December 25. Unfortunately, the virus continues to spread at higher rates—more cases were reported in Washington in November than in any other month of the pandemic.
As the COVID-19 pandemic remains a public health problem in Washington, more and more people have questions about telehealth services. State officials have put some temporary regulations in place to facilitate virtual health services. Here, our Washington workers’ comp lawyers provide an overview of remote medical visits, COVID-19, and work injury claims.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth is a broad term used to describe medical services through electronic and telecommunication technologies, including remote medical visits. Because Governor Inslee declared a state of emergency related to COVID-19, the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) created regulations that allowed for telehealth visits. Initially scheduled to end in July 2020, L&I extended authorization for telehealth visits through June 30, 2021.
What are the Benefits of Remote Medical Visits?
Remote medical visits offer significant potential benefits to injured workers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, while substantially reducing the risk of contracting the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC), the benefits of telehealth services and remote medical visits include:
- Lower risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus;
- Quicker access to necessary medical services, particularly screening;
- Better monitoring of ongoing treatment and patient progress; and
- Effective follow-up care for patients.
Remote Medical Visits and Your L&I Claim: Understanding the Basics
If you or your loved one was hurt on the job in Washington, you are entitled to all medical care that is proper and necessary. Under Washington’s workers’ comp laws, proper and necessary medical treatment can include remote medical visits and other types of telehealth services. To get remote medical care covered under workers’ compensation insurance in Washington, the following requirements must be met:
- The telehealth provider must be properly licensed and part of L&I’s Provider Network;
- The worker must have previously established care with the medical provider. The worker can stay in his or her own home for the telehealth visit;
- The remote medical visit must include both audio and video; and
- The telehealth provider should submit the proper report/documentation authorizing the remote medical exam.
Additionally, the injured worker’s medical provider can complete, sign, and submit an Activity Prescription Form (APF) during a telehealth visit. L&I updates its rules and regulations regarding COVID-19 and telehealth visits to protect injured workers.
Important: Emergency COVID-19 Regulations Allow In-Home Remote Medical Visits
Under pre-COVID rules, origination sites are medical facilities such as hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices. In normal times, a worker cannot use their own home as an origination site. However, the State of Washington has put temporary emergency regulations in place to allow injured workers to get remote medical services from their homes.
On July 29, 2020, the Department of Labor & Industries updated its official Temporary Record Review & Telehealth Independent Medical Exams (IME) Policy. LNI wrote:
Labor and Industries (L&I) is temporarily allowing the delivery of independent medical exams (IME) via telehealth, and record reviews. This temporary telehealth policy helps limit the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, while still allowing exams to occur.
This allows injured workers to use their own home for the purposes of an IME. The policy is currently set to expire on June 30, 2021. At that point, Washington’s workers’ comp telehealth regulations will revert back to the pre-COVID-19 rules.
Know the Limits of Telehealth and Workers’ Comp in Washington
Injured workers should understand the limitations of remote medical visits and telehealth services. While remote medical visits can be a very useful tool, they may not be sufficient for full treatment and evaluation. As mentioned above, remote medical visits are useful for follow-up appointments and psychotherapy services.
Get Help from Our Washington Workers’ Comp Attorneys Today
At The Walthew Law Firm, our workers’ compensation lawyers deliver reliable, effective legal services to clients. If you have any questions about remote medical visits, our attorneys are ready to answer your questions. We are fully prepared to help you during a virtual legal consultation. Contact us today to set up a free, completely confidential review of your legal case. With office locations in Seattle and Everett, our law firm represents injured workers throughout the wider Puget Sound region, including in Kirkland, Bellevue, Kent, Vashon Island, Federal Way, Tacoma, Buckley, and Olympia.