Wearable, internet-enabled technology is more common and familiar than many people may guess, and it is quickly expanding into new territory. Workers’ compensation claims managers are wondering if it could be used to enhance rehabilitation and improve recovery outcomes. Is that something to be applauded, or should we be concerned?

Experts in wearable technology say it has already surpassed the activity tracker you may be wearing on your wrist right now. Soon, it may be able to monitor your vital statistics, such as your heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure, according to Zack Craft, ATP, vice president and national product leader at One Call Care Management, a case management organization.

“They can also be used to review body mechanics to prevent future injuries and minimize risks,” he said in a presentation before the 2017 Case Management Society of America (CMSA) conference.

According to Claims Journal, the wearable technology industry is expected to expand from $20 billion in 2015 to nearly $70 billion in 2025. One of the drivers for that demand is the need for real-time monitoring of health issues, especially in the case of chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.

In the workers’ compensation area, wearable technology could help in several different areas: the initial injury report; developing a treatment and rehab plan; avoidance of re-injury; and the management of long-term or catastrophic injuries.

Wearable technology such as exoskeletons could help paralyzed patients walk again, according to Craft, but that’s not the end of their promise. “The field of exoskeletons is expanding to include new applications for bariatric, geriatric and orthopedic cases,” he said

When is wearable technology appropriate in a workers’ comp case?

Craft’s presentation was focused on how wearable technology could enhance the treatment and outcome of people who have been injured at work. He recommends that case managers make an evaluation of:

  • How the technology could improve a patient’s outcome and accelerate recovery
  • Whether the technology will enhance the worker’s functioning, productivity, quality of life and independence
  • Whether wearable technology could enhance chronic pain management
  • What technological capabilities could be used in conjunction with the wearable, such as GPS tracking, communication via smart phones and the internet, and voice activated commands

One of the main concerns workers’ comp advocates might have is whether the devices will be used to create evidence. If so, would the evidence be accurate and fairly depict the activities of the injured person? Could it be used to get past privacy concerns? We will be interested in watching for developments.