Perhaps it comes from reading hundreds of them. While medical exams arranged by the Department of Labor & Industries or a self-insured employer may be called “independent”, they seem to be anything but “independent”. I generally refer to them as panel exams or defense medical exams. Whenever a dispute, question, concern or confusion arises in a claim, a medical exam is scheduled. The reports are often boilerplate, the same physicians show up time and time again. They seem to stall medical treatment rather than facilitate it.
Be that as it may, if you are scheduled for such an exam, you need to go. Failure to attend will likely result in some negative action being taken on your claim. The Department or the self-insured employer has the right to have you evaluated by a physician or physicians of their choosing. These exams can be scheduled for any reason, and pretty much as often as they want. That said, I do have some suggestions.
If the date or time of the exam is inconvenient, it is ok to reschedule. Just call the phone number on the notice and reset the exam for a better time. Despite what a frustrated claim manager may tell you, you are allowed to go on vacation, make plans, and have appointments unrelated to your claim. You are not at the beck and call of your claim manager 24/7. While your personal activities can not completely prevent your cooperation with reasonable claim management requests, they may make you temporarily unavailable, necessitating an exam be rescheduled.
If you have an emergency and need to cancel the exam at the last minute, call. It happens. Hopefully, not to the same worker over and over again, but it does happen. It could be the weather, or car trouble, or a sick child. Whatever the reason, call the facility and your claim manager as soon as possible. Unless you have a pattern of last minute missed appointments, it will not be grounds for suspending benefits. Although, you may be asked to write a short statement about the reason for the last minute cancellation for your file. The exam will be rescheduled.
If your injury makes driving difficult, you can ask that transportation be provided. Usually, the Department or self-insured will arrange a taxi pick-up. If you are traveling from out of Washington State, travel will definitely be provided, as well as hotel accommodations if necessary. If you do drive, keep track of your mileage and submit a travel reimbursement. You can get a form here.
Take someone with you. If you have an attorney, they can not go with you. But, you can certainly take a friend or family member. Not only will this give you some piece of mind, it will be an extra set of eyes and ears. Your companion may sit through all parts of a physical exam. They will not be permitted to sit through a psychiatric or psychological evaluation.
Report any misconduct or inappropriate action by the physician who examines you or any other person associated with the facility where you have the exam. The Department will take action if they receive a number of valid complaints involving a particular provider or facility. If you have a concern about your exam, put it in writing right away and send it to your claims manager. It is perhaps human nature to view complaints made only after the report is received as a bit less credible. Complaints can be sent to:
IME Quality Assurance
Provider Review & Education Unit
Labor & Industries
PO Box 44322
Olympia, WA 98504-4322
Do not rest up before your exam. I tell my clients to go about their normal activities before an exam, so the provider can see them in their normal state. Keep in mind it is important to be honest with the examiner. Not every test will cause symptoms, and you should be straight up about what does and does not effect your condition.
You are entitled to a copy of the exam report, although, the examiner will not send a copy to you. If you have an attorney they will get a copy of the exam and send it to you and your medical provider and request any necessary response. If you do not have an attorney, send a request for a copy of the exam in writing to your claim manager. While there is no law which says the request has to be in writing, I find it harder to ignore or forget about if it is in writing. When you get a copy of the report, take it to your attending medical provider. While the claims manger should send the report to your doctor, it does not always happen. Ask your physician to review and forward any comments directly to your claims manager.
You may find a second medical exam is scheduled shortly after a report is received from the first exam. This is an unfortunate outcome of claim mangers looking for a “preponderance” of medical opinion. Many claim managers seem to feel this means the number of opinions on a particular issue, completely ignoring the quality or credibility of those opinions. There is not much you can do about it. If you have an attorney they will make the appropriate arguments, and work with your physician to obtain helpful information to forward to the claim manager. However, to avoid being found uncooperative and having your claim or benefits suspended, you will need to attend the follow up exams.
The Department is currently drafting new Rules defining who can conduct these “Independent Medical Exams” and what those exams should look like. There is some hope these new Rules will serve to improve the quality of the exams themselves and make them more objective and fair. I suppose we’ll see. In the meantime, these exams are a necessary part of your journey through the workers compensation system. Understanding them, and following a few common sense suggestions will improve the experience.