Attorneys Identify Usability, Efficiency as Areas for Improving EAMS

Originally published by WorkCompCentral on March 11, 2020.

Workers' compensation attorneys in California don't agree on precisely what changes the state should make to its computer-based case management system, but many agree that it needs to be more efficient and user-friendly.

The Division of Workers' Compensation last week announced plans to make changes to the Electronic Adjudication Management System, or EAMS. Division officials said they want to begin a slow, calculated process to make long-haul improvements.

And they want anyone who uses EAMS to tell them how to make it better.

“First, EAMS has simply created more paperwork and more confusion with the administration of the claims for benefits,” said Alan Gurvey, of applicants' law firm Rowen, Gurvey & Win in Sherman Oaks. “In a better system, there would be less paper and more direct communication with the users. The separator sheets and the cover sheets create more paper and more separation of documents that typically result in more friction costs and less efficiency at court.”

Gurvey also said EAMS doesn’t have enough categories for petitions or submissions. And solving these types of issues should constitute easy fixes, he said.

“There's no need to go to the public and request commentary and debate, wasting time and money doing so,” he said. “Simply put, there are a number of different petitions that are filed, and increasing the categories for the filings is a simple solution, rather than miscategorizing the petitions.”

EAMS also has communication problems, Gurvey said. He said issues with the assignment of judges and consistency of tasks can result in “mixed messages” sent to different judges, which further erodes the system’s efficiency.

Diane Worley, executive director of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association, said EAMS is an efficient system that had actually reduced paperwork for her organization. But her main issue is that it creates privacy concerns.

Worley said there were “serious issues” with client information being available to the public.

“While potential employers are entitled to investigate a job applicant's medical condition after a conditional offer of employment is made to confirm the applicant can perform the essential duties, what we’ve been hearing is that employers are searching for this information prior to making a job offer, denying injured workers employment,” she said in a statement. “This puts all workers who’ve filed legitimate workers’ compensation claims at a disadvantage and prevents them from obtaining employment so they can get back to work and take care of their families. There needs to be stronger regulation of privacy to protect injured workers and ensure their medical history is not being used to deny future employment.”

Not everyone thinks the system can get by on minor tweaks. Tarzana work comp defense attorney Saul Allweiss, of Allweiss, McMurtry & Mitchell, said an EAMS-type system should not just house information on litigation, but it should also include information associated with all claims.

This “cradle to grave” approach should allow users to look up the timelines of cases under one searchable number, Allweiss said.

And everything should be viewable within the system: the indemnity claim, the employer’s file, the qualified medical examiner process, medical reports and everything else from the case’s opening to its legal conclusion.

“I’m trying to get rid of all the friction that goes on in the litigation process,” Allweiss said about his proposed overhaul.

He said he’d even get rid of the EAMS name in exchange for something better.

“I believe the DWC is going to start with a whiteboard and build from the ground up,” Allweiss said.

Others said they’re willing to move forward by improving the system as is.

John Kamin, of work comp defense firm Bradford & Barthel, said his organization is “happy to have an e-documents solution in the form of EAMS.” Kamin said EAMS “is not perfect,” but he is grateful for a system that other states don’t have. 

“It’s refreshing to see that the (Department of Industrial Relations) is willing to work with the public to help make this gigantic database more user-friendly,” he said.

As far as the EAMS public search function goes, Kamin said he’d like to see more tools added.

“For instance, add more criteria to the search options, such as claim filing date, location, date of injury, date range for the application filing, etc.,” he said. “That way, if someone is looking up a claim for a proverbial 'Joe Smith' and you don’t know his birthday, you could still locate the claim a different way.”

Bradford & Barthel’s EAMS administrator, Asheley Alexander, outlined several changes she’d propose.

Alexander said she’d like to speed up the time it takes to be added as a party upon filing of a notice of representation.  

“Right now, it can take up to six months to get added,” she said.

Also among the items on her wish list: Allow multiple users to log in and file at the same time; have automatic confirmation when a filing has been posted into a case; and have fewer document titles, more consistency of filing requirements throughout California, and notifications of when guidelines or e-forms change.

“Right now, there is no clear line of communication other than checking the handbook for updates when e-forms and/or filing guidelines change,” Alexander said.

San Bruno-based applicants' attorney Kenneth Martinson said EAMS “is working well despite the hiccups.”

Martinson said, however, he wishes the system were more “simultaneous” instead of forcing users to wait for batches of documents related to a case.

Thomas Richard, from Oakland-based work comp defense firm RTGR Law, said EAMS is often convenient and efficient — except when it comes to data entry.

“There is some redundancy that's required,” Richard said. “Sometimes support staff have to retype info that's already completed on a form; they have to type all that again. When you e-file a settlement, that process creates redundancy. All the data has to be typed in twice. If we could fix that, I would be all for it.”

Those who attended the DWC’s annual Educational Conference in Oakland last week had a chance to toss suggestions at state officials, who said they’d make themselves available to hear more input during the division’s conference in Los Angeles later this month.

Officials also said they’d like to set up a way for users who can’t attend meetings in person to give their suggestions online.

Gurvey said he hopes officials will settle on EAMS changes soon so that stakeholders can direct their attention to more pressing matters.

“All in all, when the friction costs are reduced and the system is more efficient, attention and money could be better spent on substantive issues, like getting treatment for injured workers approved on a timely basis based on doctors' recommendations,” he said.