NIOSH urges collaboration to capitalize on elusive workers’ compensation claims data

A new primer from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) Center for Workers’ Compensation Studies explains how insurance claims data could be used more effectively to help prevent occupational injuries and illness.

Workers’ Compensation Insurance: A Primer for Public Health provides insights into the value of collaboration. However, a long-standing dilemma remains: there’s no central repository in the U.S. for claims information and disparate data sets are protected for proprietary and personal identification purposes.

Many studies address the heavy economic and social burdens of work-related injuries and illnesses. But researchers say these cost estimates tend to be inaccurate because data are scattered and:

  • workers receive only a portion of their regular wages through workers’ compensation
  • occupational illnesses (as opposed to injuries) often are not compensated
  • medical treatment costs for many occupational injuries are paid by insurance other than workers’ comp

According to the primer, data sharing among multiple sources and jurisdictions would improve accuracy.

Claims experience is used to determine premiums and the amount of risk an employer will retain for workplace injuries and illnesses. Claims data also can be used for surveillance and epidemiologic studies, hazard identification, and to assess the effectiveness of controls and intervention programs and strategically deploy limited resources.

“For example, in addition to using workers’ comp records to estimate the frequency of occupational injuries and illnesses, the data also contain information on morbidity severity such as medical treatments, their costs, hospitalizations, types and percentages of disabilities and rehabilitation,” David Utterback, Ph.D., a senior health scientist at NIOSH and one of the primer’s authors, said in a recent online post.

“Collaborations have been mostly within states due to problems with combining data from multiple jurisdictions. Additional collaborations would create further opportunities to use workers’ compensation records and related information to prevent occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities,” the primer says. “Overcoming some of the limitations would be possible with more systematic collection and analysis of workers’ compensation data across industries and occupations. Further standardization of data elements and coding schemes such as universal adoption of ICD medical codes and ICD-E external cause of injury codes would be beneficial.”

NIOSH established the Center for Workers’ Compensation Studies last year as part of efforts to integrate traditional research efforts aimed at preventing work-related injury and illness with workers’ compensation efforts aimed at providing medical care and wage benefits to injured workers. In FY 2013 NIOSH also helped fund health and safety surveillance programs in 23 states.

NIOSH scientists believe collaborative efforts in combination with computer-based recordkeeping and auto-coding systems provide promising opportunities for more informative data collection and interpretation.

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