Covid-19 has had a significant effect on our global situation and the way in which we are required to adapt to what is now considered a new normal way of life. Specifically, in the legal sphere of workers compensation and personal injury litigation; employers, insurers and lawyers are faced with the challenge of arranging independent medical examinations’ (“IME“) with social distancing measures and government health directives affecting how they proceed.
However, one takeaway from the COVID-19 crisis is the opportunity of finding newfound solutions and creative services to deliver safe and defendable mechanisms to assist injured or ill people return to work and/or functioning capacity. As such, telehealth (albeit by video conference or by telephone) for IME’s has become an essential development to ensure the continuing progress of litigation during the current pandemic.
What is telehealth?
Telehealth is one of the many terms used to describe the application of technology to provide non-face-to-face contact with patients. Other terms include “telemedicine” and “e-health”. Telehealth services include, but are not limited to, remote doctor and other specialists, psychologists, occupational therapists and patient consultation via video link or telephone. Telehealth is not just a technological advancement. It is the solution to assist workflow and also patients to be assessed at in the comfort of their own home.
Recent Case Decision
A recent decision in the Supreme Court of Rockhampton, Tyndall v Kestral Coast Pty Ltd  QSC 56, dealt with whether the request for IME both by a rheumatologist and vascular surgeon via telehealth was unnecessary.
Crow J ordered that “in the event that the Plaintiff is unable to personally attend the examination due to COIVID-19 travel restrictions, the assessment is to be undertaken by video conference and the plaintiff is to submit to any pathology as requested by the [specialist]”. This demonstrates the Courts willingness to adapt and work with social distancing restrictions.
The Australian Government has introduced temporary telehealth services to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS). This is separated into three categories, namely face-to-face, video-conferencing, and tele-conferencing when videoconferencing is not an available means of service. Allied health services have experienced a significant influx in the demand for the MBS telehealth consultation, of which half of these consultation were conducted via videoconferencing. Evidenced by the recent decision and move with telehealth in general, it seems that post-pandemic, telehealth may well be here to stay and will continue its advancement to facilitate the new norm for clinicians and patients alike.
How Telehealth Works
There are many ways in which IME’s can take place.
- Interview Based
This takes place either via telephone or video conferencing. This may be conducted for either psychiatric or physical assessment. This includes a preliminary review of medical records as provided and the conduction of an appointment style examination.
- Interview based with supporting Allied Health provider under supervision and direction of specialist
Like an interview-based appointment, however, in this circumstance an allied health worker is physically present with the ‘patient’ during the examination and under the direction of the specialist conducting the physical examination.
- Unsupported physical examination whereby the specialist conducts the examination
Again, similar to the above, though in this circumstance there is no one physically present. The specialist in this circumstance make visual observation and guides the ‘patient ‘ to undertake movements for virtual assessment of tenderness, gait and other necessary observations that are required to be addressed to determine a claim, required payment (from insurer), resolve the particular dispute and or support the claimant back to work / functioning capacity.
OMB solicitors works closely with health care providers to ensure that you are the centre of care and your workers compensation claim or personal injury matter is a smooth experience. We here at OMB will ensure that you are provided with the best available treatment providers and, if needed, your independent medical assessment is conducted within the comfort of your own home.
For more advice, please contact a member of the OMB Insurance team to speak with one of our friendly staff and discuss how we may be able to assist you.