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Am I Required to Complete an Independent Medical Exam?

IMEIn the state of Washington, workers you have the right to choose their own doctor (or remain with their regular family physician) while receiving treatment for a work injury. Yet in some cases an employer or insurance provider will select a different doctor for an “independent medical examination” (IME). According to the workers’ group National Association of Injured & Disabled Workers (NAIDW), IMEs are used for three reasons:

  1. “to determine the cause, extent and medical treatment of a work-related or other injury where liability is at issue”
  2. “whether an individual has reached maximum benefit from treatment”
  3. “whether any permanent impairment remains after treatment”

When an Independent Medical Exam is scheduled, it likely means that your employer or the insurance company will attempt to fight some part of your L&I benefits.  More often than not, IME doctors will base their diagnoses on a very brief visit with the injured worker.  Sometimes they don’t even complete a physical exam prior to documenting their opinion.  Only rarely does the IME physician give a medical opinion that is favorable to an injured worker.  For that reason, when L&I schedules you for an IME, you should contact a Seattle Workers Compensation attorney.  While an IME doctor can recommend medical treatment, they should not provide that treatment since they are not the patient’s usual treating doctor, and therefore do not have a “doctor-patient relationship.”  Workers who allow them to perform medical treatment, may find that they have unknowingly transferred your medical care to this hired gun. When the Department of Labor and Industries schedules you for an IME, your attorney can act as your advocate.  If you don’t have an attorney at the time your exam is scheduled, you should at least consult with one before proceeding with the IME.  It’s important to make sure the IME doctor reviews all relevant medical records before forming opinions, taking a history; in fact, an L&I lawyer can determine if the doctor is even qualified for the medical specialty in question.  It’s also essential to compare the findings of the IME doctor against the opinion of your usual treating doctor. Be sure to prepare for your IME with your attorney.  Injured workers should go into the appointment with the understanding that every word can be used against them if the opportunity presents itself.  Unfortunately, it may turn out that regardless of what you say, the doctor has already made up his or her mind.  However, even if you disagree with the IME doctor, you should not directly confront them. Leave this to your L&I Lawyer, where your interests can be represented most effectively

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