What is an Independent Medical Exam?
You may be required to undergo an independent medical examination (IME) during a personal injury lawsuit or workers’ compensation claim. The purported reason for an IME is to have a physician (other than your primary provider) give expert opinion regarding your medical condition. In practice, however, independent medical exams are generally a tactic used by the opposing side to get a doctor to discredit you—to assert that you are not injured; that you have fully healed and do not need treatment; or that your injury is exaggerated, pre-existing or unrelated to the accident in question. Because physicians who perform these exams are paid by insurance companies, many legal experts feel that the term “defense medical examination” is more accurate than independent medical examination. IME physicians are rarely independent, and often show glaring bias in favor of the insurance companies for whom they work.
The following suggestions can help you minimize the potential damage of an IME to your case:
Tips for your Independent Medical Evaluation
- Have someone accompany you to the examination—preferably your attorney, a professional appointed by your attorney, or a nurse. The accompanying person should take detailed notes or make an audio recording of the exam. Audio recordings are especially useful since they can prevent scenarios in which the IME doctor omits facts relevant to your case. In some cases, however, the use of recording devices is prohibited (workers’ compensation regulations, for example, do not allow the independent medical examination to be recorded).
- Be aware that you may be under observation at all times, from the moment you get out of your car in the parking lot until you leave the premises. The IME physician will be looking for any signs that cause suspicion or that contradict your claim to an injury. If you spring out of your car or a waiting room chair, the doctor may testify that you are not experiencing pain. In addition, some independent medical examiners set up scenarios that catch patients off-guard; for instance, a doctor may drop something or make a sudden movement that triggers the patient to quickly turn his or her head.
- Do not sign any paperwork other than the sign-in sheet.
- Be polite and cooperative with the IME doctor, but do not answer questions that pertain to fault or that are irrelevant to your case (such as questions about unrelated medical problems).
- Be honest about relevant previous injuries. Insurance companies are skillful at uncovering past injuries.
- Provide a thorough history of the symptoms, injuries, and medical care related to your case.
- If you experience pain at any point during the examination, let the doctor know. The IME exam is no time to be “tough” or conceal your pain.
- Do not agree to invasive tests or submit to procedures that your regular doctor has already performed. In addition, you do not have to endure painful procedures.
While it is unlikely that the independent medical examination report will be fair, with the right preparation, you can minimize damage to your case.
A personal injury or workers’ compensation attorney can help you identify particular tests or procedures that have been ordered but that are not appropriate to the IME counsel, and may advise you not to submit to these procedures. It may also be in your best interest to speak with an attorney prior to the independent medical examination to learn about risky or unfavorable subjects you should avoid discussing during the exam.
If you would like confidential advice and professional consultation before your independent medical exam in Washington, an Emery Reddy attorney can provide you with essential tips.
How Can an Attorney Help?
A knowledgeable personal injury or workers’ compensation lawyer will take certain steps to make sure that your rights are not violated during the independent medical examination. Your lawyer may accompany you to monitor and document the exam, or appoint another expert to be present during your IME. In some cases, your lawyer may retain a registered nurse to accompany you, supervise the exam and ensure that you are treated fairly. A personal injury or workers’ compensation attorney will also go over the details of what you should expect during your independent medical examination.
Individuals involved in a personal injury or workers’ compensation case should know that doctors have a considerable amount of discretion in documenting their findings. Depending on who has retained a given doctor for an examination, two physicians who assess the same patient during the same visit may produce significantly different reports. Unsurprisingly, the defense will use any means available to reach a favorable outcome, even if this means enlisting a medical professional to misrepresent your condition.
With the right preparation and advice, you can avoid mistakes that may jeopardize your case during the independent medical examination. Contact a Washington State Emery Reddy attorney for professional consultation on your personal injury or workers’ compensation case.
Visit our Personal Injury and Workplace Injury pages for more information.
Visit the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries for more on Independent Medical Examinations.