Monday, September 9, 2013

If We Build it Will They Come?

In the Field of Dreams, a voice kept telling Kevin Costner that "if you build it, they will come." The "voices" asked much of Costner's character, leading him on a journey of faith, with more than a few surprises along the way. This is not different in some ways from the odyssey that has been electronic filing, electronic service and the long, slow move toward the paperless judge's office. The latter is noted to be slow and long as it is still in process. There are some judges who print nothing, some who print everything, and then many on the continuum in between who print some and review other documents on the computer monitor. 

The Florida OJCC is focused on leveraging technology for the benefit of the state and for our customers. Technology can be a great benefit in making the practice more efficient and thereby make attorneys and others more effective in the practice. What is the best next step in terms of technology? One suggestion recently raised is focused on making discovery an easier and less expensive proposition for everyone involved in a workers' compensation case. 

The suggestion is that we would create a data warehouse for use by parties in each workers' compensation case. The process/system would be modeled on the Social Security system. Readers who work in that system are already familiar with their process. There, inbound medical records and government documents are saved into an organization of folders on the Internet. The applicant for benefits (in our case the injured worker) is given access to their data folder, and all of the sub-folders within it. This gives the applicant access to their own medical records, their own document history, etc. Instead of telephone calls to determine status, they might answer their own questions by referring to these documents. The applicant can grant to their representative (attorney) access to such documents also.

Building such a warehouse would require significant effort, albeit not the kind of effort and time required by e-filing, e-service and other projects we have undertaken. The real question, though, is: if we build it will they come? It is an easy answer if there was a reasonable expectation of finding data in the warehouse. In other words, people are more apt to visit if they are confident that they will find their answers there. Who has the data for the warehouse? Most would be in the hands of the insurance carrier. Some the applicant or injured worker may have.

In order for a doctor to be paid for services, she/he will submit a bill to the carrier accompanied by the office note describing the patient, the diagnosis, the work restrictions, etc. Many times, the doctor will also submit the DWC-25 form. In the course of administering a claim, a carrier will submit a volume of data to the state's regulators at the Division of Workers' Compensation. In the paper age, these data reports were made on a variety of forms. They reflected change of work status, change of indemnity status, payments made for various services, and more. In the digital age, the same data is reported, but the familiar forms and formats are no longer the norm. The data is submitted similarly, but without the "form."

The Division is interested in the idea of a data warehouse. The availability of some measure of data in each claim might benefit the Division in terms of less requests for data. There are, of course, regulatory privacy concerns that must be accommodated. 

The big unanswered question is whether the insurance industry would be interested in such a data warehouse. When I say interested, we are returning to the main question, would the insurance industry "come" if we built it? Would carriers submit medical reports and DWC-25s to such a warehouse? Perhaps their adjusting/case management programs could be modified to automatically submit such data/forms to this data warehouse when it/they are loaded into the carrier's proprietary data storage. In that setting, there would be no "cost" in time to participating in the data warehouse, but changing their programs to do this would represent a cost. If the documents had to be manually loaded to the data warehouse, then this would more likely represent a significant "cost" to the carriers.

The benefit would be notable, if the warehouse resulted in less need for formal discovery. Proponents envision a decrease in discovery requests in workers' compensation litigation if each side could easily access the medical records in a case by simply logging into the data warehouse. Questions could be answered, work status updated, payments verified, by anyone with access to the data warehouse. If the warehouse were well-stocked (consistently updated and used), then its existence might well save everyone involved a great deal of time and money. 

Thus, we return to the original premise. Everyone would likely conclude that such a system/process could be a great benefit to the participants in the Florida workers' compensation marketplace. Could be, is the key.  Kevin Costner's character in Field of Dreams plowed under his corn to build a baseball field in the middle of Iowa. Since they came after he built it, not necessarily a bad investment. But what if they had not come? What if we build this data warehouse and they, the carriers with the data, do not come?

What do you think of the idea? email me at david.langham@doah.state.fl.us

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