Changing physicians while you are “under workers’ compensation” can be tricky.  O.C.G.A § 34-9-200(a) requires an employer to furnish the injured employee with medical treatment which “shall be reasonably required and appear likely to effect a cure, give relief, or restore the employee to suitable employment.”

O.C.G.A. § 34-9-201(b)(1) allows the employer to satisfy that requirement by posting a panel of six physicians from which an employee may accept services. An employee may make one change from a panel physician to another panel physician, and a panel physician may refer the employee to a non-panel physician, although that non-panel physician may not make further non-panel referrals. O.C.G.A. § 34-9-201(b)(1). An employee may also ask the Board to order a change of physician or treatment, and if granted the employer is liable for those expenses. O.C.G.A. §§ 34-9-200(b); 34-9-201 (e).

In a recent case of Mei Yu Zheng v. New Grand Buffet, 321 Ga. App. 308 (2013), the court of appeals addressed the procedure and rights surrounding a change of physicians.  Ms. Zheng suffered a work injury which was accepted by workers’ compensation.  The Employer and insurance company made medical treatment available to the her.  There was some dispute as to whether the Employer had a valid panel.  The insurance adjuster represented there was “no panel” and the claimant unilaterally selected a doctor of her own choosing and incurred medical expenses.

The Court of Appeals held that if the employer is providing medical care, regardless of whether a panel of physicians is posted or not, the employer will not be liable for medical expenses incurred as a result of an employee unilaterally changing physicians from the treating physician to an unauthorized physician.  Holcombe v. Brown Transport Corp., 253 Ga. 719, 721, 324 S.E.2d 446 (1985); Ga. Baptist Medical Ctr. v. Moore, 219 Ga.App. 171, 172(1), 464 S.E.2d 265 (1995); Wright v. Overnite Transp. Co., 214 Ga.App. 822, 823 (1), 449 S.E.2d 167 (1994).

Therefore, it appears that an injured worker must request the Employer to change her treating physician or petition the Board for approval to formally change doctors for liability to attach to the workers’ compensation carrier.