Deborah Edwards and Andrew Pemberton look at the changing focus of the rehabilitation industry

The rehabilitation industry has grown significantly over the past 10 years, with many organisations specialising according to the severity of the injury.

One central theme, however, has risen to the surface for nearly all providers – return to work. In the early days, the industry was focused on care and doing what was felt to be right.

But as customers and providers have developed, rehabilitation now focuses on a cost-effective outcome, rather than trying to boost the NHS.

Clearly human benefits still drive many aspects of our industry. Work, for example, enhances the quality and longevity of life.

However, legislation and cost benefit analyses also have been major factors for employers and personal injury insurers, both in addressing long-term absence and controlling claims costs.

The increase in demand has created a more stable supplier base – and a more discerning and educated customer.

Many purchasers of rehabilitation now want clear standards and manage-ment information to substantiate the value of the services to their shareholders.

As with all maturing markets, we believe that rehabilitation and case management is becoming an increasingly difficult marketplace for individual practitioners, no matter how good their service.

If you want to work with the likes of Royal & SunAlliance, RBS, QBE or Allianz then size really does matter.

Being able to provide the level of service and information that customers need requires a robust administrative and clinical infrastructure throughout the country, delivered at a consistent price and quality.

Modern rehabilitation and case management organisations must have working environments in which staff and suppliers feel supported and developed professionally.

Employers and insurers need to know what they are going to get from their suppliers in all the areas important to them. They also want these suppliers to extrapolate analytical information to help them shape and manage the complex and rising claims cost issues they are facing.

“Rehabilitation and case management is becoming an increasingly difficult marketplace for individual practitioners, no matter how good their service

Increasingly sophisticated IT and workflow systems will then ensure that rehabilitation practitioners remain effective, efficient and innovative.

Rehabilitation is here to stay from a legislative point of view. It has become an integral aspect of both the claimant and the defendant claims management process.

Currently, the insurance market has the choice of whether it wants to use rehabilitation services or not. That won’t change in the UK as it has in Australia, but it will become, in time, an expected service for the injured person.

The chances that either a claimant or defendant does not seriously consider rehabilitation as part of the overall claims management process is becoming increasingly remote.

But as an industry, we cannot be dependent on legislation for our growth. Our future has to be driven by our performance, client outcomes and cost savings.

Once we have shown that we can deliver, then it is simply a matter of time before rehabilitation becomes not merely an esoteric adjunct to the claims process, but a substantial – and indeed dominant – aspect of injury claims management in the UK.

The government can play a valuable role in helping to develop a greater degree of professionalism for the sector. This would mean the establishment of a professional body, having the power of accreditation or inspections akin to Ofsted, the education watchdog.

We believe that most providers want to remove any doubts over professionalism – and the best means of doing that is through regulation, and/or accreditation. This is something Argent Rehabilitation supports; surely it’s only a matter of time before the government responds.

Although insurers are grasping the rehabilitation nettle, employers, especially SMEs, continue to need help with buying into the concept.

Back in 1994, when this field was in its infancy in the UK, an individual was often out of work for years before being referred for help.

Now one of our customers is about to go live with a system that will make it possible for an injured person to get access to rehabilitation after only a few days of absence.

Motivating employers to use such services of course will require them to understand the cost benefits but most are still some way off this.