An injured worker is entitled to medical treatment for his on-the-job injury, but he must obtain his care from an employer-authorized physician. Under O.C.G.A 34-9-201, employers are required to have a valid list of approved doctors (referred to as a “panel of physicians”) posted in a prominent place from which injured employees must select a work-injury doctor. If the panel isn’t posted or isn’t valid, then the worker may select any workers’ compensation doctor in Atlanta of his choosing as his authorized care provider.
The Validity of the Panel of Physicians
Georgia law provides very specific elements that a panel must have in order to be valid, some of which are listed below.
- The panel must be posted in a conspicuous location at work, such as in the break room, cafeteria, lobby, or clock-in station;
- There must be a minimum of six doctors on the list;
- The panel must not contain more than two industrial clinics; and
- At least one of the physicians must be a minority.
Additionally, the law states that employers “must take all reasonable measures to ensure the employee understands the function of the panel and the employee’s right to select a physician therefrom in case of injury.” If you need assistance contacting one of the physicians, the employer is obligated to help. You are entitled to change your physician to another on the list once without obtaining permission from the State Board of Workers’ Compensation.
The Importance of Selecting Your Authorized Physician
If you suffered a work injury and your employer doesn’t have a 100 percent valid panel of physicians posted, you will be entitled to select a doctor of your choosing.
Why is this so important? Because the doctor you select as your authorized work-injury physician is the one in control of your care, as well as your work status. Your doctor dictates what happens with your medical care. It’s the role of the authorized physician to determine when you are unable to work, when you are fit to return to light duty, and when you can return to full duty. Your authorized doctor is also the one who will have the authority to refer you to specialists approved under workers’ compensation benefits.
Employers and their insurers tend to select conservative doctors for their panel; that is, doctors who are more favorable to the company. Employer-approved physicians might be more conservative with your care, for example, opting for more conservative treatments in order to reduce the insurer’s costs. They may also be quicker to approve you for light duty or full duty than a truly independent doctor might be. In other words, doctors on the panel are often slow to treat and fast to release you to work.
For instance, let’s say you suffer a meniscus tear on the job. A conservative employer-chosen physician might put you right back on light duty with few restrictions. A doctor who’s more claimant-friendly, on the other hand, will be sensitive to the potential long-term harm that prematurely returning to work can have on your knee. He or she might put you on no work status until you can safely return to light duty, and then gradually to full duty.
Does your employer have a valid panel posted?
Our attorneys at Bader Law Firm, LLC, work with injured workers on a daily basis and help them through all types of workers’ compensation issues. When it’s time for them to select their work injury doctor, the first thing we must establish is whether or not their employer had a valid panel of physicians posted in a prominent place at work on the date of injury.
We usually ask the claimant to look around the workplace for an official notice and take photos to share with us. It might also help to take a picture with some context – for example with a co-worker standing near it – to prove that it is posted at the worker’s place of employment. This way, we can thoroughly review the list and determine its validity. If the panel lacks the basic elements required, then the worker will be free to choose his own independent physician.
For help with your work injury case or for questions about your rights to care under workers’ compensation, call our firm for a free consultation. Contact us today at 678-562-5595.