In a medical negligence claim an opinion from an independent medical expert is almost always an imperative part of the investigation process. In order to assess the current condition and future prognosis of a Claimant it would normally be very unusual for an expert not to want to see the Claimant in person. As with so much that has happened in 2020, Covid has changed this.
A medical examination in respect of a medical negligence claim, in most cases, will no longer be deemed a necessity, in view of national guidance to minimise face to face appointments. Medical experts have guidance from the GMC (General Medical Council) that says while they must not place patients at risk of harm unnecessarily, if an examination is necessary face to face appointments are not prohibited. Claimants are regularly required to travel cross country for medico legal appointments. At these appointments they would be required to meet hospital staff and interact with the expert during the examination. In the current circumstances it would be difficult to argue that this is ‘necessary’. As a consequence, where possible, since March 2020 many medical experts are now seeing patients virtually with a video conference.
There are of course pros and cons to appointments occurring this way.
- No travel for expert or Claimant.
- Waiting times for appointments can be shorter.
Experts have long waiting lists for appointments. Recently, in some cases waiting times for appointments are shorter as the expert isn’t having to travel and they are able to fit in more appointments and the waiting lists are shorter.
- Reports are produced more quickly.
I understand that this is because the expert will consider the Claimant’s medical records in advance and is in a position to finalise a report immediately following the appointment where usually time wouldn’t allow.
- Claimants who have moved abroad can have an appointment in the same timeframe as those who live in the UK.
When a face to face appointment is required a Claimant who is abroad can often wait much longer whilst they negotiate the logistics of travelling to the UK.
- In many cases a physical examination is still required. For example, where subtleties of a joint injury need to be seen or an internal examination is required.
- An expert will often assess the Claimants demeanour when they walk into their consulting room. This is no longer possible.
In my own practice the positives currently outweigh the negatives. Over the last few months I have found that both Claimants and experts are preferring the change and are pleased that they are not required to travel. The lack of examination has not been detrimental to cases and it is most appreciated that cases aren’t being stalled by the current Covid restrictions. The subtleties that are not seen in a virtual appointment in most cases will not prevent progression of a case.
As a safeguard, in every report the expert confirms that the appointment took place virtually and there may need to be a face to face appointment further down the line. In other cases, virtual appointments just aren’t possible because of the nature of the injury. Where it is necessary as soon as an appointment can be scheduled safely, we will arrange this.
We don’t want Claimant’s to have to wait any longer to conclude their case than is absolutely necessary, so we are pleased that in some cases virtual appointments have been possible. At Graystons, we welcome change that benefits our clients.
If you are concerned with regard to attending a medico legal appointment whilst Covid restrictions are in place, please contact one of our specialist team and we will be happy to discuss your options.