One of the first steps when filing a workers compensation claim is to visit the treating doctor for examination of your injury. However, your treating doctor is not the only one that will likely examine you – your employer’s insurers are allowed to contract an independent medical examiner (IME) to examine you, too. The purpose of independent exams are to act as a cross-reference, ensuring workers are not exaggerating their injury.
Although the word “independent” is in their title, IMEs are not completely sovereign from the insurance company. In 2009, the New York Times found in a review of case files, medical records and interviews that IME reports tend to benefit insurers.
Who Becomes an Independent Medical Examiner?
Independent medical examiners are often semiretired physicians who are older and no longer treating patients. The only requirements to become an IME are to have a state medical license and be authorized in a specialty.
Physicians can make appointments for independent exams on their own time, maintaining their own schedule and freedom. Very little equipment is needed and there is no physician-patient relationship, absolving the IME of potential liability. Overall, it can be lucrative part-time or full-time work for a physician looking for flexibility.
Independent Medical Examiner Bias
Some critics think that insurers hire IMEs who dispute worker’s doctors more frequently, giving them an incentive to side with the insurer. According to a 2009 New York Times article*, one doctor claimed that doctors have to give insurers what they want or else they’ll be out of work. In the same article, a New York Times review is cited as finding that exam reports are “routinely tilted to benefit insurers by minimizing or dismissing injures.”
Further, independent medical examiners could see up to 50 patients a day, leaving them very little time to examine a patient or record the examination. Some doctors don’t record a word of the exam – instead, they submit a checklist to a company that handles paperwork for independent medical exams, who in turn drafts a report that the doctor only has to sign to attest to the accuracy.
If you have questions about your workers compensation claim or feel that an unfair outcome was reached during your independent medical exam, discuss the situation with a Little Rock work injury lawyer.