Virtual IMEs play significant role in PI claims, access to justice during pandemic

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With continuing province-wide restrictions and public health orders in response to COVID-19, many services typically conducted in person are now being performed virtually in British Columbia, including independent medical examinations (IMEs).

This is promising news for personal injury claimants, says Easy Legal Group of Companies President and CEO Larry Herscu. “I’m optimistic that once the pandemic is behind us, virtual assessments and IMEs will continue to play an important role in access to justice.”

Herscu notes that justice systems across Canada have modified procedures to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“In B.C., courts have modified and adjusted their processes to provide services by telephone conferences, videoconferences, and in-person appearances where it is safe and deemed necessary,” he says. “I think that the same degree of flexibility is required at all stages of a personal injury claim.”

For example, suppose a personal injury victim is required to attend an assessment with a medical professional. In that case, virtual IMEs may be a way to reduce backlog and delays while increasing accessibility.

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen many innovative and efficient ways of providing services to the public,” he says. “Although some may have been previously skeptical of telemedicine and virtual care, the pandemic has led to widespread implementation of these services and a renewed interest in the practice.”

Herscu points to several recent medical journal articles that detail how orthopedic and spine providers provide outpatient care remotely through previously underutilized digital platforms.

One research article published in the May 2020 International Journal of Spine Surgery proposes a remote spinal examination methodology that “has the potential to serve as a guideline for the spine care provider to efficiently assess patients with spine disease using telemedicine.”

Another article published by the Mayo Clinic also sets out a virtual musculoskeletal physical examination framework. The authors state this will be important as telemedicine continues to evolve even after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

A review published in the July 2020 issue of Spine Journal notes that while there are limitations to the spine telemedicine examination, unique strategies exist to provide important information to the examiner. Efforts have already been undertaken to validate and expand the spine telemedicine examination capabilities.

IMA Solutions, one of the country’s leading providers of independent medical assessments, has been conducting virtual IMEs throughout the pandemic. The company’s website outlines the process of how a physician or allied professional performs a virtual IME.

“Claimants connect with a physician via videoconferencing to ensure the safety and security of both parties under conditions where an in-person assessment cannot be administered,” IMA’s website states. “The virtual IME involves an in-depth review of medical records and a one-on-one clinical interview with the physician. In rare circumstances, a partial virtual physical exam may be conducted by the physician when an in-person exam is not possible.”

The exam’s purpose is to determine the nature and extent of an injury. The examination findings are documented in a formal written report that addresses specific questions associated with the diagnosis and treatment, IMA notes.

“As the pool of research around virtual IMEs evolves, so too will personal injury law,” Herscu says. “While assessments are currently available in some jurisdictions on a limited basis, there is still a backlog among assessors to address treatment denials. Virtual IMEs could play a significant role in keeping personal injury claims moving along during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

“Requiring these types of assessments to be conducted in person places a strain on medical service providers during a time where they are already stretched thin,” he adds.

Plaintiff personal injury lawyers, medical specialists and treatment providers have vigorously tried to find solutions to public health and access to justice challenges, Herscu says.

“Although there may be resistance, the Insurance Council of British Columbia (ICBC) is temporarily funding telehealth services to provide healthcare online using phone and video technology.”

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To reserve your spot, email Oszkar Breti at oszkar.breti@imasolutions.ca.

The Easy Legal Group of Companies is a Canadian litigation financing firm. Its lending solutions service the personal injury sector including plaintiffs with pending injury claims, their legal representatives and the service providers involved in their cases. The firm is registered to conduct business in Ontario, B.C., Alberta and the Atlantic provinces. Services are delivered through four brands: Easy Legal Finance Inc., Rhino Legal Finance, Seahold Legal Finance and Settlement Lenders Inc.

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