Since the start of the Coronavirus crisis in March 2020, face to face appointments, for everything from haircuts to eye-tests to doctors’ appointments have all but disappeared, almost overnight.

In many serious injury cases, the immediate concern was that cases and rehabilitation would effectively have to be put on hold because appointments could not take place, whether that is therapeutic assessments or medico-legal assessments.

For individuals who have already suffered from significant injuries, this uncertainty was even more unsettling.

Access to urgent and thorough rehabilitation is an integral part of the personal injury process, and something that my colleagues and I at Irwin Mitchell strive to get in place as early as possible for our clients.

Before lockdown, that was relatively straight-forward if liability could be established. We could instruct a Case Manager to prepare an Immediate Needs Assessment, and from that, recommendations could be made and implemented to ensure that the injured person’s quality of life and recovery could be maximised. After lockdown, this has become much more challenging.  

Enter the virtual assessment. Conducted over Zoom, or Google Meet, or even WhatsApp, the injured person and therapist or expert can see each-other, and establish the best way forward together. It sounds pretty good, right?

Do these appointments offer the same potential for all the issues to be picked up? You may of course think straight away of the things you simply cannot see when you can only see someone’s head and shoulder or when you are not able to be in somebody’s home? But what about the more subtle issues?

I’ll give you an example – you are speaking with an injured person, and the connection is not very good. You ask them a question, and they say they cannot hear you because of the connection, you repeat yourself several times and they eventually hear you and answer the question and you are satisfied with their answer.

What if the internet connection was fine and the injured person was instead asking you to repeat the question because they did not understand the question, or was struggling to put together an answer?

Using that same example, the assessment is then prepared, and recommendations are made, and a plan is put together, but potentially with a key piece missing.

The same could easily apply to issues with vision, hearing, idea generation, insight, all issues that could very easily be missed in a virtual setting due to their subtle presentation, but may have a significant impact on an injured person if missed.

From my perspective as a serious injury lawyer, I need to be satisfied that we have thoroughly investigated all of our client’s functional problems and deficits to ensure that we protect their future.  From the perspective of the injured person, this may be a barrier to their getting the rehabilitation that may be very seriously needed.

So what is the solution to this? Is there even a solution to this? The obvious answer is to have virtual appointments but accept that they are not ideal and that face-to-face assessments and rehabilitation should be implemented in the future when it is safe to do so.

From a therapeutic point of view, not having any rehabilitation is not an option, meaning that virtual appointments are a necessity and here to stay, at least for the time being. To my mind, awareness is a large part of the solution.

I am currently involved in a case where our client sustained significant neurological spinal injuries as a result of a road traffic collision where she was an unrestrained passenger in a bus which collided with a tree. Our client has seen both a neuro-physiotherapist and their GP, both remotely.

The neuro-physio identified some concerns about how our client was managing at home following neuro-surgery, but stated in her notes that her inability to be in her home and see the issues for herself meant that she could not get to the bottom of it.

The GP then picked this up, and during that appointment, asked some directed questions and got to the bottom of the situation. This could so easily have been missed had the neuro-physio not recognised that the virtual appointment meant that she could not see everything she needed to see.

So what can you do? Embrace the opportunity to keep working with patients during these difficult times, but always be mindful of the limitations of the technology, and do not be afraid to put in your notes or your reports that there are potential issues that need more investigation in a face-to-face setting. Be thorough, and think about things you would normally do in person, but can’t via a video-link.

Jack Lloyd is a Chartered Legal Executive, specialising in serious injury cases  in the Irwin Mitchell Southampton office.