The Workers Compensation Board has made several important policy changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Governor Andrew Cuomo issued Executive Order 202 declaring a disaster emergency in the State of New York.  As a result, the Workers Compensation Board has issued emergency rules that permit “Telemedicine,” excuse injured workers from attending insurance company medical exams (so-called “Independent Medical Examinations’ or IMEs), and temporarily suspend requirements for partially disabled workers to look for work within their medical restrictions.

The Board’s rule defines Telemedicine a “an interactive audio and video telecommunications system that permits real-time communication between an authorized medical provider and a claimant in accordance with the guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.”

It goes on to permit doctors to see patients virtually “where medically appropriate for social distancing purposes due to the outbreak of COVID-19 to assess current disability status.”

“Medically appropriate” means “discussion of test results or imaging, follow-up assessments or counseling. It does not include treatment where physical examination is a necessary component,” and also does not include the first doctor’s visit or any form of physical therapy.

In short, this emergency rule allows an injured worker to see their doctor using a computer or mobile phone in order to get medical treatment and advice and to obtain a medical opinion that they remain disabled from work.  Since not every Medical Provider will participate in Telemedicine, you may want to contact your health care to see if they offer this service and whether your computer or mobile phone is compatible.  Most Telemedicine providers will require a working web camera, microphone, speakers and a high-speed internet connection.  Some Telemedicine providers may also require a compatible Web Browser such as Internet Explorer, Google Chrome or Safari.  Other providers may have a specific download or app that is required.  As with all other medical treatment, the employer or workers’ compensation insurance company is responsible for the bill – an injured worker should never pay a doctor for medical treatment related to an on-the-job injury.

Another change implemented by the Workers Compensation Board relates to attendance at IMEs.  The Board has indicated that it will not suspend benefits if an injured worker is unable to attend an IME due to the corona virus outbreak, and a result many insurance companies are simply cancelling these examinations.

However, if the examination is not cancelled by the insurance company, it is important to  be aware that the injured worker can’t simply “skip” the IME.  He or she must notify their attorney and the Board by email or letter.  Notification to Grey and Grey can easily be made via email or phone call, since we remain fully operational during the COVID-19 crisis.