Am I Limited to a Posted Panel Doctor?
The Georgia workers’ compensation statute say that any employer with more than three employees must post a panel of physicians for the benefit of injured workers in a readily accessible place. Further, the statute requires employers to instruct workers on the use of the panel and procedures to follow in the event of an injury.
An employer who properly follows the posted panel procedure has the first opportunity to control your medical treatment. As discussed on this site, we do have options to obtain a change in treating physician if you are not getting quality care but at the outset, your employer gets to choose the doctor.
Thus, if you are injured on the job and your employer has a panel that contains the names of six unaffiliated doctors, then you need to choose one of those doctors for your initial treatment.
Frequently I see cases where the panel is invalid. If your panel is not valid then we can choose a physician to treat you and your employer and their insurance company has to pay for it. Not surprisingly, insurance companies will fight hard on this issue, but we can still win.
Often panels are defective because they contain no doctors names at all, or if there are not six unaffiliated doctors names on the panel. For example, a panel that lists seven doctors, all associated with the XYZ Industrial Clinic, is invalid.
It is always a good idea to snap several photos of the panel with your cell phone camera. Even better, ask a co-worker to do the same after you have taken you pictures. It is amazing how a blank panel will suddenly turn into a properly completed one after someone gets hurt.
If we believe that a panel is invalid, I will often use that fact to negotiate for a reasonable treating physician with the adjustor or attorney. Remember, our goal is to get you to a doctor who will be paid promptly by the insurance company. It can take 3 or 4 months to get before a State Board judge, so litigating about a posted panel while you want several months to get care usually will does not make sense.
Failure to Instruct You About Using the Panel
A less common argument arises from a situation where your employer has a valid panel but your HR manager or supervisor never explained how to use it. I have also seen situations where the panel is valid but it is located in a supervisor’s locked office with no ready access for employees.
In these situations, we can argue that you should not be bound to the panel doctors because of your employer’s failure to follow the statutory guidelines. Here, too, it would be helpful to have photos or videos supporting your claim.
Often times I can use a panel procedure defect to negotiate a more reasonable authorized treating physician.
I tell my clients to look at the posted panel doctors as a starting point. Often you will need to begin treatment with a posted panel doctor but I will carefully observe the progress of your case and if you and I believe that the original panel doctor is not fulfilling your needs then I will not hesitate to pursue alternate arrangements as provided for by law.