Importance of choosing the best authorized treating physician in your Georgia workers’ compensation case
If you were injured on the job in Georgia and your employer is subject to the act (and they don’t contest the claim), then you are entitled to compensation for medical treatment.
In Georgia, injured workers are required to get treatment from a doctor listed on the posted panel of physicians (if such a list exists). A panel of physicians is a list of approved doctors that your employer has posted on the job site. If your employer doesn’t have a posted panel of physicians, then you can treat with any medical professional you want to.
In either scenario, the issue becomes which doctor to treat with. This important decision can be key to the successful payout of your workers’ compensation claim.
Reasons why choosing the right authorized treating physician maters
We’ve all known doctors who listen to us and treat us with respect and kindness, and we’ve also encountered doctors who provide less than optimal service. The authorized treating physician has one of the most important roles in your workers’ compensation case, which is why it’s important to choose the right doctor for you.
First, the authorized treating physician is in charge of working with the injured worker to help return them to work, which is one of the goals of the workers’ compensation system. They determine what treatment is required, and they are responsible for determining what the injured worker’s work status is at every appointment. Your work status is important because it directly relates to your eligibility for indemnity benefits.
If the authorized treating physician takes the injured worker completely out of work for more than 7 consecutive days, the injured worker is entitled to temporary total indemnity benefits.
Second, the authorized treating physician could place work restrictions on the injured worker — which is when the injured worker is capable of working, but they cannot do their normal job. You might have a disability which prevents you from returning to their former duties. These restrictions can vary greatly, and may or may not allow you to return to work. The reason why the employee may not be able to return to work is because their employer may not have available work within the restrictions the authorized treating physician has ordered.
For example, the attorneys at Gerber & Holder represented a worker who injured their shoulder. The authorized treating physician initially determined that the injured worker could only perform one-handed work, with the non-injured shoulder. The employer, a manufacturer, didn’t have a position that allowed for only one-handed work, so our client was subsequently able to receive temporary total disability benefits.
Third, the authorized treating physician doesn’t only determine the work status of the injured worker, they are also in charge of referring the injured worker to all subsequent providers for treatment, testing and physical therapy. They can choose the specific doctor or provider they want the injured worker to treat with. This can be inside or outside their practice group.
Fourth, the authorized treating physician can also request that additional body parts get treated, and they can even treat those body parts so long a they are related to the initial injury.
For example, let’s say an injured worker slips and injures themselves at work. At the time of the injury, their main complaints of pain may be just their shoulder. However, the real cause of the pain may be due to a neck injury that is the cause of their shoulder pain. The authorized doctor can order an MRI to confirm the neck injury and even begin to treat that body part if they are qualified to do so.
Advice for choosing the best authorized treating physician
As you can see, choosing a doctor on the panel of physicians AND choosing the right doctor for you is important. But how can you make sure that the doctor you choose is qualified and has your best interest in mind?
It’s very important to contact an attorney at the outset of your workers’ compensation claim in order to get help choosing the right doctor for your injury.
You are allowed a one-time change in authorized treating physicians. So if you failed to contact an attorney at first, there’s still an opportunity to change physicians. Many times, an employer or their workers’ compensation insurance carrier pressures the injured worker to treat with an industrial clinic that isn’t equipped to treat your injury properly.
If you are receiving temporary total/partial disability benefits, you are entitled to an independent medical examination with a doctor of your choosing within 100 days of your last receipt of benefits. The insurance carrier has to pay for this appointment — up to $1,200 for prepayment, and then any subsequent fees that the doctor may charge for the evaluation. This independent medical examination can be used for a multitude of purposes.
If an employer doesn’t have a posted panel of physicians, then the injured worker can choose any doctor they want. This doctor has all of the same rights and power as a panel doctor, and they can determine the work status of the injured individual. The injured worker is still entitled to a one-time change in authorized treating physicians.
Quite often, clients want to treat with their own doctor. This is understandable since that doctor probably knows them best and they have built a rapport with individual. However, this may not be the best option in your workers’ compensation case.
Your personal doctor may not be an orthopedic specialist who can treat your exact injuries. Additionally, your personal doctor may not accept the workers’ compensation fee schedule and therefore won’t accept payment from them. Contact an attorney prior to choosing any doctor or agreeing to see any doctor after a work-related accident, as this will have a large impact on your rights.
If you have any questions about a doctor, please don’t hesitate to contact an attorney at Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys so we can help guide you in choosing the best doctor for your claim.