Serious injury claims: emerging products and solutions
We report from a recent trade show on the latest disability equipment, including the robotic exoskeleton and a hands-free wheelchair.
Naidex is the UK's largest disability, rehabilitation and homecare trade show. We attended this year’s event, which was opened by Paralympian, Hannah Cockroft and featured over 200 exhibitors.
It offers serious injury claims professionals an opportunity to explore and evaluate the latest innovations in technology and equipment. This is especially helpful on the defendant side of the market, where we are still too often kept at arm’s length from injured people and the rehabilitation supply chain.
We were looking to identify any emerging products or solutions that might help to maximise independence or achieve budget efficiencies, especially for split liability cases where the parties have a mutual interest in value for money because of the compensation shortfall.
We set out below examples of exhibitors with particular relevance for the claims sector.
ReWalk are now marketing version 6.0 of their well-known exoskeleton, as publicised by Claire Lomas, who became a paraplegic as a result of a riding accident in 2007. In 2012, Claire used an earlier model to walk the London Marathon course. She visited Kennedys in 2014 to talk about rebuilding a life after spinal injury.
Marketing literature suggests various health benefits, including for body conditioning, bone mass, sleep health, and bowel and bladder function. The sales team advised that a competent ReWalker can put on or take off the exoskeleton themselves and walk unaided without a standby carer.
The unit costs approximately £50,000 to buy outright. However, it was interesting to hear from a claims perspective that ReWalk offers a three month trial for prospective buyers to see whether it suits them or not. The trial costs are then deducted from any subsequent purchase.
Unlike prosthetic componentry, it is available off the shelf. It does not require any bespoke fitting or parts, save for choosing the correct sized waistband from the product range. Its official lifespan is five years for near-daily users, but could be longer for less frequent users.
The Genny wheelchair incorporates the Segway self-balancing technology. In the same way as a conventional Segway, it can be steered by the user tilting their upper body, or even head, in the desired direction of travel. Like a conventional powered chair, it therefore offers independent mobility without an attendant carer.
The main advantage of the Genny over hand controls is that steering is hands-free, so the user is able to carry or manipulate items on the move. We were given examples of carrying a cup of tea from the kitchen into another room or holding an umbrella in the rain.
Its distributor offers various models starting from approximately £12,000, including a lighter and narrower indoor version and an all-terrain cross-country model.
Adapted vehicle leasing
We spoke to Adapted Vehicle Hire Ltd, which rents a wide range of adapted vehicles for periods between one day and three years and will deliver nationwide.
There are frequently cases where a seriously injured claimant is being discharged from hospital and may require an adapted vehicle for mobility. Some solicitors or case managers would advocate rushing into a purchase. We have seen some expensive mistakes, including where a £50,000 vehicle had to be sold within a year because it could not accommodate the eventual wheelchair specification. The leasing option may be more appropriate in cases where prognosis and longer term needs are uncertain at the point of discharge.
Finally, we met developers of the ‘Smart Watch’ from the Adaptive Assistive Rehabilitative Technology – Beyond the Clinic (AART-BC) consortium of seven universities. This uses sensors including GPS and accelerometers to collect data about a patient and generate an individual condition score, for ongoing remote monitoring of rehabilitation compliance. The watch can act as a rehabilitation aid to reduce the frequency and expense of therapist-led sessions and maximise independent or carer-facilitated provision. The product is still in the development phase but will initially target wheelchair users, prosthetic users and the elderly.
The majority of exhibitors were marketing traditional disability aids that commonly feature in expert reports by occupational therapists, to enable and support the full range of daily activities including mobility, exercise, sleep, bathing, feeding etc. The proportion of radical innovations was relatively small.
It is helpful for claims professionals that a rental market is developing for larger capital purchases, where there is uncertainty about an injured person's eventual level of recovery or function, or about the cost-benefit of a particular item.
The area of most interest for compensators is whether new equipment or technology merely represents an additional head of claim or might lead to financial savings elsewhere, predominantly in relation to the care package. In that regard, it is encouraging that some of the items considered above have the potential to reduce carer dependence.