Charles C. Roberts, Jr.

Digital media has become the latest electronic revolution with claims professionals on the leading edge (the good) as well as on the bleeding edge (the bad) of the technology. Many claims professionals are using home offices as an economical way to service customer claims and provide reporting to the regional office via electronic means. The development of the Internet has played a significant role in that digital media is easily transmitted from one site to another. Although the use of digital technology has many advantages, it also comes with related problems and may necessitate procedural changes on the part of the claims adjuster.

Figure 1

Figure 1 is a view of some of the electronic apparatus that is starting to be used by the claims profession. The digital camera is being employed as a substitute for film photography. The digital camera generates instant images, which can be downloaded onto a computer, incorporated into reporting software and sent to the regional office via the Internet. High resolution printers can print photo quality prints for inclusion into a paper report; however the higher cost of photo quality paper may limit the printing to a few selected photos in order to maintain cost effectiveness. On the flip side (bleeding edge), downloading and filing of digital images can be time consuming. Adjusting pixel size for optimal resolution yet minimizing digital image file size can take time. Due to the larger file sizes required for high resolution photographs, the standard “floppy disk” may only hold 2-3 images. The compact disc (CD) is a solution to the problem. Digital images can be copied to CD’s for storage and 35 mm photos can be scanned for archiving onto CD’s. Saving the photos on the original memory cards may not be advisable as they can only be read by the specific camera used and data may be lost through exposure to magnets or other environmental conditions. Dropping off photo film at a local drug store and selecting a few photos for scanning in a document scanner or slide scanner (Figure 1) may be more time efficient. Some drug store photographic departments may also transfer photos from film to disk or CD’s. Photo quality and resolution may vary depending on the service used. Digital cameras require a relatively large amount of battery power, so backup batteries or in-field charging capability is recommended. There is also in a lack of image clarity when taking photos with dynamic movements. This can be compensated for by using a digital video camera, if needed. One legalism that has arisen with digital photography is rooted in the ability to alter or adjust digital photographs. If a claim proceeds to litigation, the adjuster should be prepared to testify in court that the photos were unaltered. When making copies of digital images for opposing attorneys, make sure you copy the images onto a new, unused disk. If you select a used disk and simply delete the previous files, it should be noted that through the use of computer utility programs, these files can be recovered and read by others. Despite the many advantages of the digital camera, it may be premature to throw out the 35 mm film camera.

Scanning devices have proven useful. The document scanner (Figure 1) can digitize documents (such as repair invoices) and transmit them via the Internet with virtually no loss of clarity, unlike faxes that suffer from a loss of resolution. Older media such as slides can be scanned for inclusion in reports or archives. If report photos are needed at the regional office immediately, they can be on their way in minutes using the Internet. Scanning a large number of photographs can be time consuming, so a balance may be reached by selecting a few photos to transmit. Optical character recognition software has improved, but one still has to proofread the scanned document for errors that may have passed “spell check” but obviously changed the meaning of the writing. It may be better to scan documents with poor legibility as images rather than text documents, but the resulting file size will be larger.

The digital video camera (Figure 1) has been a significant development in resolution and clarity of motion picture media. Some digital video cameras have options to take several, sequential, still images, which is an excellent way to capture dynamic movements such as brake testing of an insured’s vehicle. Most digital video cameras have an IEEE 1394 standard interface (fire wire) which allows direct archiving onto a CD or DVD (digital video disk). A CD has only about a 15 minute digital video capacity while the current DVD disk has up to 2 hours of video storage capacity. Unfortunately, video file size can be so large that it is impractical to transmit video imaging over the typical dial up Internet connection. For traditional video formats such as VHS or 8mm, analog to digital (A-D) converters are available to convert analog video to digital video for storage on DVD’s. As yet, there is no single standard for DVD’s, resulting in confusing (and incompatible) formats such as DVD-RW and DVD+RW. Archiving long video tapes can be a problem since many current analog to digital converters have a high enough error rate to cause a “lock up” over a period of time during transfer.

The following table summarizes some of the advantages and disadvantages of digital technology as used in the claims’ profession:

Leading Edge Bleeding Edge Instantly available imaging Time consuming to download images Hidden archival costs Paperless revolution Loss of claims documentation Potential for altered images Convenience of satellite office Large file sizes and archive reporting requirements Rapidly changing DVD technology

Digital imaging will certainly aid the claims professional in increasing productivity in the workplace. As other entities such as insurance companies, legal council and investigators come “on-line,” the utilization of digital imaging will increase and could dominate paper based media in the future. Despite the latest bells and whistles provided by the leading edge of digital imaging technology, claims professionals appear to be prudently adopting digital media and appear to be avoiding the consequences of the “bleeding edge.”