BEHAVIORAL HEALTHCARE FOR INJURED WORKERS: THE NEED TO EXTEND TELEHEALTH CARE
The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board adopted an emergency regulation which enabled the treatment of injured workers through the use of TeleHealth. For psychological services this includes video and telephonic sessions. Behavioral Medicine Associates is the leading provider of psychological care to injured workers in New York State. Within three days BMA was able to transform our operations to fully accommodate TeleHealth. Workers’ Compensation patients embraced this system and have benefitted from continued care through the TeleHealth system. Many injured workers are physically compromised and have been reluctant and anxious to leave their homes. By providing TeleHealth services to these patients they can continue their treatment and develop the skills needed to return to their positions when possible. Treating doctors can continue their care of the patients without the risk or danger of contracting COVID-19; they are able to fully focus on the patient’s needs and not on the complications of working during the pandemic.
The benefits of TeleHealth are significant; patients are home and available for the sessions. Therefore, many fewer missed appointments and cancellations have occurred. As a result, a larger number of injured workers have been able to access care and receive the treatment, support, and comfort they require in their homes.
A survey of both mental health providers as well as injured workers overwhelmingly indicate they are interested in continuing TeleHealth services for the foreseeable future. Many of these injured workers simply refuse to leave their homes for fear of contracting COVID-19. New York City has been the epicenter of the pandemic and as a result, workers have been frightened to leave their homes even for physical treatment and examinations.
The TeleHealth regulation that was adopted by the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board is scheduled to end on July 24. It is critical this regulation be extended for the foreseeable future. A hybrid program of treatment, which would include patients being seen face-to-face in an office as well as those continuing with TeleHealth is the most effective, efficient, and reasonable way to move forward with psychological services in the Workers’ Compensation system.
In addition to those patients who are fearful of leaving their homes, patients in rural areas of New York State are unable to access care due to a lack of providers. By maintaining the TeleHealth protocols these injured workers across New York State will be able to access care and receive the treatment they require. This will reduce the time they are out of work and will provide an opportunity for these patients to receive the care they have been denied for so many years.
Behavioral Medicine Associates has received numerous referrals of healthcare workers, transit workers, and corrections officers who contracted COVID-19 while working. These injured employees require ongoing psychological treatment to help them cope with the impact of this disease on themselves and their families. The only treatment setting for these patients is TeleHealth; they are quarantined, unable to leave their homes, some of these patients require intensive medical care.
The TeleHealth system in Workers’ Compensation needs to be extended. It is my hope that a permanent change will be enacted to allow ongoing TeleHealth services in the New York State Workers’ Compensation system. It is economically, psychologically, emotionally, as well as physically of benefit to numerous patients. During this time of pandemic, public anxiety, and uncertainty, it is a critical and necessary means of allowing injured workers to remediate the emotional and social consequences they have been experiencing.
Behavioral Medicine Associates has helped thousands of injured workers resolve problems related to workplace injury, illness, and trauma. Providing the ability for injured workers to continue care through TeleHealth is critical; the use of TeleHealth in the Workers’ Compensation system in New York must be continued.
Howard M. Rombom, Ph.D. is Owner and Clinical Director, Behavioral Medicine Associates. Behavioral Medicine Associates is the leading provider of psychological care to injured workers in New York State.