John Howley: Thank you for talking to us today, Glenn. As you’ve said, we’re in uncharted waters with the current situation. Most of us don't want to go to a doctor’s office or anywhere else where sick people have been. But people who have been injured don't have that luxury. They may need treatment and they may need to create a record of treatment to prove their injuries. So what do they do?
Glenn Slavin: I think it's an important topic, John. First and foremost, you have to balance safety versus the need to document and be fastidious in the treatment that you need to receive. We've, frankly, been faced with this even before sheltering at home was required.
People were speaking up and speaking out and saying, listen, I'm age protected or I live with age protected people. Or I live with people that have co-morbidities and I'm really frightened about going to see Dr. Smith for a workers' compensation evaluation, or for a need for treatment exam or for physical therapy for my lumbar spine, which was injured in the accident.
And I think that's all good common sense. Frankly, I'd like to see clients defer to that common sense, especially at this time. I don't expect that this dynamic is going to change quickly. We'll see a lifting of some of these social restrictions, but we're never going to return, I don't think, to that which was done before. There's going to be a lot of caution in society and that's probably a good thing.
John Howley: How should clients think about what must be done now and what can be deferred?
Glenn Slavin: So I think for clients, what we need to do, is we need to always be thinking in terms of what is essential versus nonessential. They're doing that with surgery now. Essential surgeries are those that are life threatening or deemed to be life threatening. Non-essential surgeries are put on hold. That's a good working definition for today's client and the appointments that they need to see.
John Howley: My niece is a physical therapist manager and they've basically shut down. Because while you can deteriorate if you don't get physical therapy on a regular basis, putting it off usually is not life threatening. Whereas Covid-19 is potentially deadly, especially for the older population.
So what does a client do if they've been in an accident or had an injury on the job, and ordinarily they would go to physical therapy? What do they do and how do you think it'll impact their case later on?
Glenn Slavin: If it's done right, it will not have an adverse impact down the road. But the emphasis is on doing it right. What's right is probably different for each client, but several ideas come to mind.
For example, I recently had a conversation with an insurance adjuster and a defense attorney. We talked about the concept of telemedicine in a workers' compensation setting where you have injured workers who have to check in with authorized treating doctors.
John Howley: How does that work?
Glenn Slavin: Sometimes a telemedicine conference by phone or FaceTime or Zoom is a very valuable asset. The doctor doesn't need to do range of motion examinations, face-to-face, live. That can be done over video conferencing. And I've seen great reception to this because, let's face it, doctors want to keep going. And they can't necessarily keep going without staff, without people to transcribe their notes, without billing people to process what's going on in their office.
John Howley: What about the actual therapy itself?
Glenn Slavin: Home physical therapy is absolutely critical. It is often very effective when someone either can't go to physical therapy because they're not open, or it's just not a good idea to be doing exercises or rehabilitation in an environment which could lend itself to contracting the Covid-19 virus.
Physical therapists can give, either by video or in written form or verbally over the phone, basic exercises and basic modalities that can make someone feel good and help them progress as they battle their injuries in the short run. Now while these are not substitutes for actually laying on of hands that a physical therapist or rehabilitation specialist would do, they certainly get someone through the short run.
John Howley: Are these things that have actually been done?
Glenn Slavin: Ice or a heat elevation, those things are all good and they're things that people do all the time. Getting a TENS unit from Amazon delivered to your doorstep can also provide for electronic stimulation to a body part. All very, very important. A lot of the physical therapy modalities are available online or could be scanned and emailed to someone for them to follow and do gentle stretching exercises in the privacy of their own home.
John Howley: One of the big issues is what will insurance cover? I know that Medicare and Medicaid have come out with a lot of telemedicine changes in response to COVID-19. Some private insurance companies are encouraging patients to use telemedicine. Do you see that happening, where clients will be able to get coverage? And where the practitioner will be able to submit their bills and be paid for telemedicine?
Glenn Slavin: I see insurance companies doing a lot of things, waiving premiums, waiving copays, providing much more flexibility. For the simple reason is, I think it's bad optics not to. I don't think there is a judge on planet earth that is going to penalize that injured person because they didn't want to go down to the doctor's office in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, especially when our state and local and national officials are telling us not to. So I think they don't have any choice but to be more flexible.
John Howley: How about the courts? What do you see courts doing with injury cases during this pandemic?
Glenn Slavin: The paradigm is shifting now where things are being permitted that would not otherwise be permitted previously. For example, the courts are approving settlements and other things telephonically without the necessity of the client's signature or the signature being done by facsimile, which was never acceptable in the past.
John Howley: What else can someone do to help you as their lawyer in their injury case at this time?
Glenn Slavin: Something I encourage all of my clients to do even in non-global pandemic times is to keep a diary. I would certainly suggest that they do it now. The diary is important for a lot of reasons. It helps remind a person of the things that they're going through and the things that they've done. And if months from now, they’re asked in a deposition, well, during the pandemic, you certainly didn't go to physical therapy, the person can say that's not true. I did home physical therapy at the direction of my therapist and these are the kinds of exercises I did. This is how often I did them, this is how long each session was. A diary provides an excellent way to document the nature and extent of their injuries and the home treatment they did.
John Howley: That's a great idea. Do you recommend that they keep that separate from any personal diary they may have?
Glenn Slavin: I definitely do, John, and that's a great point. Because obviously when things are discoverable, all things are discoverable. You may have some private thoughts and private things in a personal diary that are unrelated to your physical injury and that you would not want shared in a litigation.
I tend to use these diaries as a refreshing tool and a study guide, much like I might have a client review his or her deposition in advance of trial. And so to that end, I think it is a good tool to orient the person to the pain that they were experiencing, how difficult things were, and the efforts that they made to get themselves better despite a global pandemic.
The other thing that's very important is, the more a person stays in touch with their attorney and whoever else, the doctor and the insurance company, the better off that they'll be when the smoke settles and the dust clears on this global pandemic.
John Howley: Have you changed anything in terms of working with insurance companies and defense lawyers?
Glenn Slavin: I've been very aggressive, I guess is the right word, in sending an email to the insurance people, to the defense people, to the insurance adjusters, to nurse case managers, the doctors. It always starts off the same. I hope this email finds you well, safe and healthy. As you know, I represent a client and this is what we're faced with given this time. We seek your guidance and understanding and suggestions as to how to get through it. It's affecting all of us. It's not just affecting the injured person. So we all have to kind of get in the boat and row together. That kind of thing never hurts. It's always very positive.
John Howley: Glenn, these are really helpful tips. I appreciate you taking the time to give clients comfort that they do have things they can do at this time to protect their health and their legal claims, even though they can't do everything they want to do.
Glenn Slavin: My pleasure, John.
John Howley: A final word to our readers. If you have been injured and need a lawyer in New Jersey, you can contact attorney Glenn Slavin at (732) 726-3307. He is working through this crisis to make sure you get the representation you need. You can also visit his law firm's web site at http://www.slavin-morse.com/
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John Howley, Esq.
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