The BICMA conferences have done their best to promote the need for quick rehabilitation. Christine Seib says the insurance industry may finally be catching on....

Did you get a good laugh out of last week's tabloid story about the "confused" OAP who trundled onto the motorway in his electric wheelchair? It's a fair bet that few people at the Bodily Injury Claims Management Association (BICMA) conference were laughing. For the insurers, solicitors and health professionals in attendance in Manchester last Thursday, mobility and other rehabilitation aids are no joking matter. Indeed, for the insurers and solicitors, they are a big money matter.

Insurance Times reported last week on the importance of co-operation between the professional areas in handling injury claims, and the need for legal and insurance agencies to ensure the claimant received rehabilitation as quickly as possible. The appointment of a case manager to co-ordinate recovery resources can help bring about the best possible outcome for the claimant and save insurers a lot of money. AIG, Iron Trades and Zurich Commercial have all reported or projected savings of up to 20% on injury claims following the implementation of rehabilitation and case management programmes.

The BICMA conference had a dual purpose: to alert insurers and solicitors to the different health and rehabilitation professionals available, what they do and, most significantly, how much they cost, and to launch the Case Management Society (CMS UK). BICMA chairman Norman Cottington said, following last year's publication of the Code of Best Practice for injury claims management, it was important that insurers and solicitors, in order to apply it, got information on the roles of rehabilitation professionals from informed sources. "Often, rehabilitation conferences are lawyers and insurers with a little bit of information talking to lawyers and insurers with no information," he said.

BICMA could not be accused of making the same mistake – an audience heavy with solicitors, a smattering of insurers and a few interested attendees from associated professions spent the day listening as case managers, physio, occupational and behavioural therapists and vocational, mobility and accommodation adaptation experts expounded on their role in the rehabilitation process. But, first up, there was an insurer and a solicitor to set the scene of working within the new code.

Need to communicate
Allen Alsford, claims manager at KGM Motor Policies, said the code, which he helped develop, forced the two professions to communicate for the good of the claimant's recovery, rather than their bank balance. "It's nice to be able to talk without having to look over your shoulder," Alsford said. "You can have a friendly chat and start the whole ball rolling."

He admitted the code sometimes made life more difficult. "You may not like what you see in that [medico-legal] report, might not have a big enough reserve, but it gives you, the insurer, a better chance to understand the case and help the claimant," Alsford said. And there were rewards, such as a change to the industry's image. "Claimants need to understand that insurers are not the nasty beasts that hold the cheque and say no all the time," Alsford said. "This code was created by people within the industry for use within the industry and all that I ask is that you give it a try."

BICMA treasurer Bernie Rowe, a personal injury litigation partner with Lyons Davidson, followed with a confirmation that insurers were keen to embrace the code.

"The response has surprised all of us on the committee, there's been far, far more interest than we'd anticipated," he said.

"There's been a change in the willingness of insurers to get early intervention. At least half the insurance market, with a bit of persuading, now says yes."

True enough, there was an air of preaching to the converted among the few insurers in attendance. In fairness, Cottington had said a far greater proportion of insurers attended the London conference earlier this year.

Allianz Cornhill personal injury claims manager Jim Osbourne travelled from Glasgow for the event, which he described as "pretty positive and helpful".

He said he was already a convert to the benefits of early rehabilitation but had not yet got the financial statistics to back his faith and convince his collegues.

"I started using rehab in June or July this year and so far I've had two cases of fairly seriously injured people and they're already back at work," Osbourne said. "Insurers are supportive but its going to take people to push it, people that are committed and can answer the sceptics who're more concerned about the bottom line."

Liverpool Victoria technical claims manager Trevor Webb, from Bournemouth, is also already using rehabilitation. He said the conference was a good starting point for uninitiated insurers, but feared that only those who were already convinced had attended. "It's a starting point but there's nothing like getting involved and using rehabilitation techniques on real cases and seeing the results," Webb said.

Groupama integrity claims controller Tony Stanger attended both the London and Manchester conferences, which he said were helpful but somewhat idealistic. "Sometimes it's impossible to operate outside the litigation arena; there's always got to be a financial settlement at the end," he said. "You've got to have a very co-operative opponent to make it work.

"It's a brilliant theory and it's the way forward but it's a difficult path to follow."

The Birmingham-based insurer said, although he could see the benefits of rehab in the high-value cases he handled, pound-for-pound proof was needed to convince the managers of smaller claims.

"It's important to get it rolled down the line to the claims guys that are dealing with cases on a daily basis," Stanger said. "There's got to be a cost benefit to it."