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February 4, 2005

L&I asks docs, “How can we make your job easier?”

TUMWATER — The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) is surveying the state’s health care providers, asking how the agency can make doing business with L&I easier for health care professionals who treat injured workers.

The survey, sent out today, is in response to concern that an increasing number of physicians, chiropractors and nurse practitioners are choosing not to treat injured workers filing L&I workers’ compensation claims. As a result, injured workers in some parts of the state have to travel long distances to get treatment.

“This is part of L&I’s on-going effort to improve the way it manages the workers’ compensation system,” said Director Paul Trause. “Our emphasis is on getting injured workers the treatment they need and back to a job they are capable of doing as soon as it is medically appropriate. Access to quality medical care is a key ingredient in that. Delays in treatment can lengthen recovery time and result in longer and costlier claims.”

The survey is a more detailed inquiry based on an earlier query of health care providers. In May, L&I sent surveys to 200 orthopedic surgeons and attending physicians, asking them what they value most in dealing with insurers, and how they rate L&I in those areas. Many responded, telling L&I that when they call about a claim they want faster access to a knowledgeable person, quicker authorization of treatment and less paperwork. L&I generally got good marks for the amount it pays physicians for the treatment they provide.

The survey is part of L&I’s Recruiting and Retaining Medical Providers Project. The project’s goals are to eliminate delays in making claims decision by making it easier for providers to do business with L&I. It’s hoped that the improvements will increase access to quality medical care for injured workers. Beginning in July, L&I also will increase the amount it pays providers to submit forms specific to workplace injury claims.

To improve the quality of medical care, L&I already has established two Centers of Occupational Health Education (COHE) in Spokane and Renton. The centers are designed to promote best practices and to provide a resource for health care professionals who don’t routinely treat occupational injuries. The Centers have proven so popular, L&I is requesting additional funds to expand the services they provide. The additional funding would lay the groundwork for two new COHEs, increase training for doctors and expand the coverage the COHEs provide.

On Jan. 31, the agency also opened the L&I Claims & Account Center, allowing injured workers, their employers and healthcare providers to check on the status of a claim electronically. The online center eliminates the need to call L&I to check on whether a medical procedure has been authorized. By this spring, customers and providers will be able to conduct much of their business with L&I electronically.

Labor & Industries manages a State Fund that provides workers’ compensation insurance coverage for about 1.9 million workers and 160,000 employers. Approximately 122,000 workplace injury and illness claims are authorized each year. In Fiscal Year 2004, L&I paid medical bills totaling about $450 million.

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For media information: Robert T. Nelson, L&I Public Affairs, 360-902-6043 or nelq235@LNI.wa.gov or visit the L&I News and Media Center at www.LNI.wa.gov/News.

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