Comp firms face challenges going mobile

There are mobile applications for almost any financial transaction — everything from banking to renters insurance — but workers compensation insurers and third-party administrators have not joined the app bandwagon, partly due to the complexities of the state-based comp system.

Comp payers instead have opted for mobile-friendly web platforms for their injured workers to access claim and benefit information. However, injured worker usage of these tools remains relatively low despite the potential benefits because the technology is fairly new and not well marketed, experts say.

Unlike a mobile payments app, workers comp mobile platforms will likely seldom be used over the course of a worker’s life, said Leah Cooper, managing director of global consumer technology at Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc. based in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Yet, comp insurers are turning to them to simplify the claims process for claimants, employers and insurers, but the technology remains in its early stages, said Tim Colli, senior principal of integrated casualty consulting at Willis Towers Watson PLC based in Nashville, Tennessee.

“At the end of the day, the goal is to improve caseload strategies for the claim professional, but more importantly to improve the experience of those who’ve suffered a claim,” Mr. Colli said. “How you do that is improve communication and access to information and through a personalized experience for the user.”

The mobile platforms commonly act as a portal for information such as benefit payments, medical appointments and claim notifications after filing a claim, but in the future they could simplify the collection of key comp claim information by allowing users to take pictures of accident sites or property loss and upload them, Mr. Colli said.

Sedgwick started off with viaOne Express, a claimant self-service mobile app. But in June, the company introduced mySedgwick, a mobile-friendly, web-based platform, opting for this platform approach so it could function across different operating systems without taking up memory space on the phone, Ms. Cooper said.

“You have the look and feel of an app experience but you don’t have the pain of downloading and constantly updating that app,” Ms. Cooper said. “We’re talking about a group of individuals who may have one … hopefully not more than two incidents of workers compensation in their lives.”

Through mySedgwick, claimants can check the status of their benefit payments, enroll in direct deposit, request reimbursement for travel related to their claim and request a call from a nurse related to their claims. The goal is to reduce the headaches with navigating comp claims, giving claimants the information they need and also easing the burden for employers’ human resources departments, Ms. Cooper said.

Ms. Cooper said it took a considerable effort from a team of employees to accommodate the complexities of the myriad comp claim types and state comp regulations for the platform. Ultimately, the company had to consider what information is most commonly needed in any given claims process and design it with easily understandable information rather than bogging claimants down with complex regulations, she said.

In the future, Sedgwick foresees implementing artificial intelligence to quickly pinpoint what information claimants are seeking, Ms. Cooper said. The company has, for example, taken into account search histories and questions submitted through the site to spot trends and determine what information they are seeking, Ms. Cooper said.

“This is a new field for us and one that we’re actively researching,” Ms. Cooper said. “We want to take a step past classic pattern recognition and do more than just predict preferences. We want to take into account the structure and the context of the utilization data.”

For claim professionals, mySedgwick expedites the claims communication process with claimants by providing status notifications to claimants via text or email, walking them through the next steps and providing them electronic documents and releases to sign, which takes some of the status updates duties off of the employer human resources team’s to-do list, Ms. Cooper said.

In a similar fashion, Travelers Cos. Inc. chose to create My Travelers for Injured Employee’s, a mobile-optimized platform rather than an actual app to make the platform accessible for users regardless of their mobile operating system, said Rich Ives, the insurer’s Hartford, Connecticut-based vice president of workers compensation claims. The platform allows users to communicate with claims and medical professionals as well as see benefit payments, Mr. Ives said.

Travelers receives just over a quarter of a million claims annually, Mr. Ives said. A spokeswoman for Travelers said “tens of thousands” of comp injured workers have taken advantage of “our new digital workflow.” So far, the platform has been a useful tool for claimants who want to take control over their recovery process and want to return to work, he said.

The utilization rate for insurers who offer comp platforms is usually low because the technology is fairly new and is not promoted often, Mr. Colli said.

Claimants, for example, may be notified about the platform’s existence via mail or text message after filing a claim. But perhaps placing signage around the workplace, ideally next to information about where workers and supervisors can report accidents, can let workers know where to find these platforms before an accident the occurs, Mr. Colli said.

Ultimately, insurers see this technology as a way to engage with the injured worker and avoid litigation, said Michelle Leighton, vice president and senior claim consultant at Conner Strong & Buckelew based in Marlton, New Jersey. And while the technology isn’t a replacement for a real person, it can be a resource for navigating often complex, emotional comp claims, she said.

“As a communication tool, you see some very broad reporting apps out there, but not specific to workers comp, and probably because it’s so state-specific,” Ms. Leighton said. “I think where you’ve seen it the most is helping the injured worker by being an add-on to the process versus the sole source of information.”

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