When applying for workers’ compensation in Florida, an employer’s insurance carrier will ask an injured worker to submit to an “independent” medical examination (IME) by an approved doctor. These exams are meant to diagnose the worker’s injury; determine the severity of the injury; and recommend an appropriate course of treatment. An IME-performing doctor cannot treat a disabled patient, as an IME merely serves to determine if an employee’s condition is work-related or if it was caused by a preexisting impairment. If an injured worker has a disagreement with their insurer-approved doctor, they are allowed to seek a second opinion only once for the duration of their case.
Problems with Independent Medical Examinations (IMEs)
Unfortunately, an “independent” doctor may have a financial incentive to diminish the legitimacy of an employee’s claim. An “independent” doctor may downplay the severity of a worker’s condition, claiming it is unrelated to work or is the result of a preexisting injury that has been re-aggravated. In other cases, a doctor may accuse a patient of fabricating the circumstances surrounding their injury or even lying about the ailment. In instances where a patient is diagnosed with a work-related injury, they may be wrongfully cleared to return to their job, eliminating their chances of receiving workers' comp benefits.
Tips for Patients
The following are helpful tips to keep in mind before, during, and after your independent medical exam:
- If possible, have someone accompany you to your IME, such as your attorney or a nurse. This person should take detailed notes or, if permissible, make an audio recording of the exam. This is especially important because this evidence may be admissible in court in the event a dispute arises between patient and doctor.
- Do not sign any paperwork, other than a sign-in sheet, without an attorney’s permission.
- Be honest and polite with the IME doctor. In many cases, a patient’s conduct during their IME can affect the result of their workers’ comp claim.
- Be forthcoming about any previous injuries. Do not minimize or exaggerate any ailment.
- Do not speak to the doctor about the insurance company, adjusters, or attorneys.
- Do not discuss any potential settlement.
- Provide a thorough history of symptoms and medical treatment relevant to your condition.
- Make the doctor aware of any pain you experience during your exam.
- Remember that you are being observed at all times during your IME. Doctors are often trained by insurance companies to look out for any suspicious patient behavior.
Prior to an independent medical exam, it is advisable to seek the advice of a workers’ comp attorney. Before your IME, an attorney may be able to foresee questions a doctor may ask and help prepare the right answers.