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University researcher’s study proposes faster and less expensive recovery from whiplash injuries

Dr. Pierre Côté says over-treatment of injuries inflicts huge health-care costs

Dr. Pierre Côté (centre, standing) is the university’s Canada Research Chair in Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation.
Dr. Pierre Côté (centre, standing) is the university’s Canada Research Chair in Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation.

If you drive a car in Ontario, you are painfully aware you pay the country’s highest rates for auto insurance. With an average per-vehicle premium of $1,700, collectively Ontario drivers pay about $10 billion a year.

Many believe Ontario’s hefty premiums relate to the higher risk assumed by insurance companies in areas like the Greater Toronto Area, where population density is highest. Theoretically there are more accidents and more claims in urban centres because there are more cars on the road. But a University of Ontario Institute of Technology researcher says don’t blame your high premiums simply on collision repair costs.

“The real problem is the weight of spiralling medical and rehabilitation costs to treat those injured in minor traffic collisions, which make up the vast majority of claims,” says Dr. Pierre Côté, the university’s Canada Research Chair in Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation, and Director of the UOIT-Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College (CMCC) Centre for Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation. “We need new systemic approaches to promote faster patient recovery and reduce the health and financial burden of traffic injuries such as whiplash. A more efficient system founded on evidence-based care would contribute to reducing costs.”

In January, Dr. Côté and a team of researchers released the largest study ever conducted in Ontario on the management of whiplash injuries. Their findings, published in the British journal BMJ Open, conclude a government-regulated rehabilitation guideline is the answer, rather than the current method of care: which focuses on insurance-based preferred providers or education from physicians. 

“The best available evidence suggests over-treating persons with whiplash injuries actually promotes the development of disability and generates higher health-care costs,” says Dr. Côté, Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences. “Our study demonstrates that providing the right treatment, at the right time, and in the right amount dramatically accelerates recovery.”

Those treated according to the government rehabilitation guideline during the large randomized clinical trial recovered more than 40 days faster than other participants.

The results agree with the recommendations from common traffic injury management research that Dr. Côté and his team previously did from 2013 to 2015 for the Financial Services Commission of Ontario. That previous study recommended a series of reforms to the treatment of traffic injuries to the Government of Ontario.

Dr. Côté’s new study comes as the province holds a new round of public consultations on automobile insurance reforms.

“Our current system is very expensive and big chunk of total claim costs are not going to the rehabilitation of injured persons,” says Dr. Côté. “In my opinion, a medical and rehabilitation system focused on delivering evidence-based care would lead to substantial savings to the system and insurance Ontario drivers. An improved automobile insurance system should shift the focus from cost to care, and invest in treatment that promotes rapid recovery.”

Media contact
Bryan Oliver
Communications and Marketing
University of Ontario Institute of Technology
905.721.8668 ext. 6709
289.928.3563 (mobile)