In many workers’ compensation cases, the injured worker, the employer, or insurance carrier may desire an “independent medical examination” or “second opinion.” This generally occurs when the one of the parties is dissatisfied with the current physician’s diagnosis, prognosis, or care plan. The Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act does provide the employer or insurance carrier the power to compel an injured worker to an independent medical examination (IME) by a physician of the employer or insurance carrier’s choosing. See, O.C.G.A. 34-9-202(a). While the “IME” may suggest that the physician is an impartial and “independent” doctor, they are likely experts hired by the insurance carrier. These physicians are well-known to the insurance company and are “hand-picked” as their opinions are likely to favor the employer or insurance companies’ position. These IME’s may include testing, physical or psychiatric examinations. The employer and insurance carrier must provide written notice at least 10 days prior to the IME and advance payment of travel of expenses. Unfortunately, the law does not specify how many IME’s the employer or insurance company can send an injured worker to during a case.
The Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act does provide the injured worker one IME of his or her own, provided that the injured employee has received workers’ compensation income (or indemnity) benefits within 120 days. Provided the injured worker has received income benefits, he or she may choose a physician in the general area to seek an IME at the expense of the employer/insurer. The injured employee must provided advance proper notice of the IME. Generally, these IME’s are valuable to the employee as it provides an alternative to the employer directed medical care.
These IME’s can prove to be helpful for the injured worker or the employer/insurer. The State Board of Workers’ Compensation should give the authorized treating physician some deference as he or she has been treating the injured worker for a longer period of time. However, every case is different and the presiding judge has the power to give weight to whichever medical opinion is more persuasive to him or her.
Stay tuned for the next blog: Preparing for and handling the IME . . .