Georgia law says that you are entitled to medical care provided by your employer when you are hurt on the job. However, this does not mean that you can go to your family doctor or to a doctor of your choice.
Under the Georgia workers’ compensation laws, your employer is given the power to decide which doctors you can see for your work injuries. This control over your medical care is not absolute, as I will discuss below, but unless and until you (and your attorney) take certain actions, your employer gets to control where you treat.
Who Controls Your Work Injury Medical Care?
The question of who gets to choose your “authorized treating physician” is important because doctors who get most or all of their referrals from insurance companies often tend to minimize the seriousness of your injuries and avoid keeping you out of work. Further, doctors loyal to insurance companies are allowed to share their notes and details of your care with the insurance adjuster and insurance company lawyer.
Posted Panel Physicians – Your Employer Gets to Choose
Georgia law provides that every employer with more than 3 employees must display a posted panel of physicians in a place accessible by employees. This panel (list) of doctor must include at least 6 non-affiliated physicians. No more than two of these doctors can be an industrial clinic and at least one of these doctors should be an orthopedist.
Not only should the posted panel be accessible to you (i.e, in a breakroom or common area) but your employer must offer instructions to you about how to use the panel.
If no panel is posted, or if the panel is blank, or if no explanation has ever been offered, the law says that the panel is invalid – you can choose any doctor you want and your employer has to pay for treatment. However, our experience has been that workers’ compensation judges are reluctant to declare posted panels as invalid even if your employer has not followed any of the rules.
Be Wary of These Traps When Choosing a Panel Physician
When you get hurt, you may choose any of the panel physicians as your treating physician. However, you are only eligible for medical care if your employer and their insurance company acknowledge your claim as valid. If they controvert (deny) your claim, you will not be eligible for employer paid medical care.
- Even if your employer accepts your claim as compensable, you should not assume that the posted panel physician will act solely in your best interest.
- Too often, the posted panel doctor will not order expensive tests like MRI scans or CT scans even when these tests are clearly necessary and appropriate.
- Too often, the posted panel physicians will release you to full duty work long before your injury has healed or even stabilized.
- Most of us are raised to accept that a licensed physician has our best interests at heart – in a workers compensation context you just cannot be sure that this is the case.
Also, you must be very careful about what you say to the posted panel physician. As noted above, your posted panel medical file is an open book for the insurance company. If you are do not report all injured body parts to the doctor, or if the doctor does not accurately write down everything you say the insurance company may only authorize partial treatment.
We regularly see situations where the insurance company only authorizes care for a left shoulder, or lower back, but no other body part. This leads to cases where an injured worker sees his/her posted panel doctor for a follow-up visit, only to be told “I am not authorized to treat your neck, or right knee, or left elbow” even though you are sitting in the doctor’s office with complaints of pain in that “unauthorized” body part.
How to Protect Yourself Against Biased Posted Panel Doctors
Unfortunately, it is very difficult for you – the injured worker – to fight back on your own against sub-par medical care offered by your employer’s insurance company and their doctors. You can, tilt the odds in your favor by hiring a lawyer to push back against incomplete or poor quality medical care.
I have represented injured workers in Georgia for over 20 years. Before that, I spent 5 years working for a law firm that represented insurance companies – so I know firsthand the tactics and strategies used by insurance companies to delay and downplay your claim.
I also know from my many years in practice which Georgia doctors regularly produce good results for injured workers and which doctors to avoid. Insurance companies know about the quality and reputation of the doctors on their panels but they will assume that you do not.
If all of the doctors on your employer’s posted panel are not especially desirable, I am often able to negotiate a compromise treating physician with the insurance adjuster or lawyer, or we can file a motion to ask the judge to order the insurance company to authorize a doctor who will get results for you.
If you are concerned about the quality of medical care you are getting in your work injury case, or you sense that your authorized doctor does not have your best interests in mind, please call me at 770-351-0801 or email me using the form on this page.