Whiplash is difficult to diagnose and easy to fake and claims are costing the insurance industry £2 billion a year, pushing up the cost of car cover. But one pioneering physiotherapist has developed a piece of technology, which he says can spot a real pain in the neck from a bogus one. Read on to find out more and watch the video at the bottom of the page to see how it works.
Whiplash has become a buzz word among motorists with 1200 claims for neck injuries being made every day in the UK alone according to shocking statistics from the Association of British Insurers (ABI).
This has proved a big earner for personal injury firms as three quarters of personal injury claims in the UK are for whiplash, more than anywhere else in Europe.
This could be because it’s easy to fake, difficult to disprove and the sheer number of people making claims means doctors are more inclined to sign off a patient as having a whiplash injury when chances are they’ve just got a minor muscular injury or often, no injury at all, according to physiotherapist Don Gatherer.
But fake whiplash claims push up the cost of car insurance and now there are calls for a clampdown. Speaking at the 2011 Whiplash conference in Leeds in May, James Dalton, of the ABI called whiplash a “fraudsters dream”.
“Weakest necks in Europe”
Dalton said: “Despite the statistics I doubt that that the UK has some of the weakest necks in Europe.”
And fakes and fraudsters could soon find it difficult to get their hands on whiplash cash if pioneering physiotherapist Don Gatherer has anything to do with it.
Gatherer, in partnership with the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital, has come up with a new tool which could revolutionise the diagnosis of whiplash – and lead to a fall in the number of fake claims.
He said: “At the moment the personal injury system is a cash cow.
“We want to help those with genuine claims get the treatment they need. In doing that, the non-injured will fall away, because it’s too much effort.”
The role of Formula One
Gatherer has worked with the England Rugby team and was a physio at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
He was working with F1 star Mark Webber when he noticed that Formula One technology for testing the forces drivers face in their racing cars could be used to measure muscle force.
He describes the system he developed as a ‘pain detector’. It measures and sends the muscle forces it detects to a computer and enables physiotherapists to assess the patient’s true condition.
Originally this technology was designed to build detailed rehabilitation plans for Gatherer’s patients. By working out exactly what a patient was suffering with he could plan the best route to recovery and measure their progress.
But the technology could have other benefits.
How could the device stamp out fraud?
Because whiplash is a common complaint after a car crash, the impact this new tool could have on the insurance industry is huge as claims at the moment cost insurers £2 billion a year.
Insurers offset this cost by raising the cost of car insurance premiums.
The government could also use the technology to work out who is and who isn’t fit for work to weed out benefit cheats.
At the moment if someone complains of a neck injury all they have to do is appear to be in pain.
But using Gatherer’s new technology means if someone wanted to fake an injury they would need to fool a computer and up to 46 different tests.
“It’s easy to blame the kid with the claim for the whiplash but we have to legislate against it,” adds Gatherer.
This is something one province in Canada has done by capping the amount of compensation someone can receive in order to make false whiplash claims less attractive.
And although Gatherer says we’re a long way from outlawing certain claims, his technology could help ensure deserving patients get the best treatment, while the fakers will be discouraged from making a claim.
Alongside his colleagues at the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital, where he developed his technology, Gatherer is now in talks with the insurance industry and the government to try and implement his methods across mainstream physiotherapy.
The knock on effect of this will be fewer claims and ultimately, cheaper insurance premiums for every motorist.
Gatherer said: “Objective data will help them get the treatment they need. We really think that the technology will help to save time and also eliminate the softer cheats who just give up at the thought of a more rigorous testing programme.
“This should help speed up cases and ultimately provide substantial costs savings to the taxpayer and drivers.”
What do you think about whiplash fraud? Have you made a claim, genuine or not? Let us know what you think. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @confusedlois
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