For as long as there have been clinical negligence claims, solicitors have been screening their cases to ensure that they can sort ‘the wheat from the chaff’, the positive from the negative as early on in a case as possible. The reasons why are clear and obvious to all. One to ensure disbursements are kept to a minimum and most importantly, with solicitor’s time being their most valuable commodity, to ensure that work in progress is kept to a minimum on negative cases.
However, whilst we know and understand that virtually every case needs to be investigated and screened in one form or another; today in 2019 does a generalist screening really help and if not, what are the alternatives?
What is a Generalist Screening?
A generalist screening (usually completed by a nurse) is an assessment of the medical records to see if the client’s claim can be substantiated by the medical records. The generalist will then comment on whether in their opinion the case should be progressed and often will provide an easy to read rating system, making their opinion clear and concise to even a layman.
However, whilst this clearly has significant benefits and is far superior then having no screening process, generalist screening raises serious considerations. Whilst a generalist may have significant skill in assessing cases of all types; in the majority of cases he/she does not have specialist experience of managing a patient within that clinical setting. This raises the prospect of a generalist potentially assessing a case either in a too conservative manner or a too open manner.
If the case is assessed in too conservative a manner, this has several knock-on effects. Firstly, a patient with a real and true claim may be prevented from receiving the relevant compensation that they deserve. However even more pertinent is that if a generalist screening is returned negative, even if the solicitor still wishes to progress the claim, often their ATE provider will deny them cover due to the negative screening result placing the total risk of progressing the case on the solicitors firm which can often be a risk to big to for a firm to shoulder.
On the flip side if a case is assessed in a too open manner, this can quite simply lead to wasted WIP & disbursement costs and most importantly wasting precious time on cases that are destined to fail. Progressing with too many cases that result in failed litigation can be a serious problem for any solicitor cash flow.
So, What Are the Alternatives?
Hands down, the best alternative is to go Specialist from the very start. By this I mean, getting the screening opinion of an expert within the specialist discipline that would be required to provide the court compliant reports. For a case relating to gynaecology/obstetrics get a screening from a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and for a case relating to Emergency Medicine speak to a Consultant in Emergency Medicine. You get the message.
This is so far superior to a generalist screening, because these expects have practical first-hand knowledge of their area of expertise and can provide a focused and exact screening opinion on the merits of your case and whether you should progress! Plus often a specialist will notice a secondary issue that could have more easily been missed by a generalist.
To conclude, whilst generalist screening still has its place it must be viewed as what it is, a general opinion. However, for those who require immediate and for more exact screening, that both you, your client and ATE providers can rely on, there is no substitute for Specialist Screening.