Georgia’s workers’ compensation law says specifically that your employer has the right to limit your choice of doctors to a list of their choosing. This list of doctors must be made available to you as a posted panel of physicians, and your employer is required to instruct you how to use this panel.
Your employer’s posted panel of physicians must list six (6) different unaffiliated doctors. Only two of these panel doctors may be “industrial clinics.” The panel must include an orthopedist and should also include at least one minority physician.
- There are some limited exceptions to these rules if your company is located in a small town where there are not a lot of doctors in practice.
- Often posted panels are printed on pink cardboard, but we have also seen panels on plain white, yellow or other paper colors.
- Learn more about posted panels here
Following your injury, you may choose any doctor on the posted panel. You also have the right to one “free switch” to another panel doctor if you are not happy with your first choice.
What Happens if the Posted Panel is not Valid?
You should always take a picture of your employer’s posted panel – ideally right at the time you get hurt. We have seen many photos of invalid panels – sometimes there are no doctors filled in, or too few doctors, or listing doctors who have retired or moved.
If the panel is not valid, the law says that you then have the right to choose any doctor and your employer (and their insurance company) must pay for care. When this happens, however, insurance companies often fight us for the right to control who provides you care as your authorized treating physician.
- Often we use the existence of an invalid panel as leverage to negotiate with the insurance company to authorize a well respected doctor, and avoid months of delay while the issue of who will treat you is scheduled for a hearing.
Why You Should be Wary of Posted Panel Physicians
Most of us are taught from childhood to respect our doctors and to assume that a doctor who is treating you has your best interests at heart. Unfortunately, in the context of a Georgia work injury claim, you should disregard this assumption.
Many of the posted panel doctors we see get most or all of their business from insurance companies. They know that insurance companies do not like to pay for expensive diagnostic tests (like MRIs or CT scan) and they know that insurance companies don’t like to pay lost wage benefits.
Out experience has been that many posted panel doctors are quick to release injured workers back to full duty work, and they are less likely to conduct thorough evaluations. Further the doctor may tell you one thing, but put something completely different in the report he/she provides to the insurance company.
Some posted panel doctors are capable but skeptical about work injury claims, while other panel doctors are marginally competent and extremely biased. As your attorneys we can offer you the benefit of our experience with doctors throughout the state of Georgia who accept workers’ compensation claims.
What are Your Options if You are Getting Subpar Medical Care?
While the law does give your employer and their insurance company the first opportunity to control your workplace injury medical care, that control is not absolute. If we see that you are not making medical progress we have a number of options, including the following:
- we can file for a hearing to request a change in authorized treating physician and litigate the issue
- we can negotiate a change in treating physician with the insurance company
- we can send you to a “claimant’s independent medical exam” to get a second opinion
There is no question that your employer’s insurance company is more interested in seeing you go away for as little money as possible, as opposed to paying for necessary treating and strengthening you to return to work. This is the reality of Georgia’s workers’ compensation system. But the law does offer substantial rights and power to injured workers and you assert those rights properly, you can claim the medical care and lost wage benefits available to you.