6 tips when a doctor changes your work status
in a workers’ compensation case
Apart from the injured workers, the authorized treating physician is the most important person when it comes to an on-the-job injury in Georgia. They determine what’s physically wrong with the injured worker and what the physical limitations of the injured worker are. This affects not only the treatment plan for the injured worker, but also their eligibility to receive indemnity benefits.
This means that the authorized treating physician is the arbiter of what the work status is for the victim of a work-related injury, and what care they are eligible for. The authorized treating physician can also request diagnostic testing and send the injured worker to other doctors for treatments or second opinions.
The work status of an injured worker is not static. The authorized treating physician may change both the nature of the restrictions (from sedentary to no work, for example) and the limitations within the restrictions (from no lifting more than 10 pounds to no lifting more than 5 pounds).
Different authorized treating physicians can have different opinions on your work status.
In this article, we will offer 6 tips on what to do when the authorized treating physician modifies your work status:
- Get a copy of the work status report from the doctor.
- Contact your attorney immediately following the appointment.
- Don’t argue with the doctor if they change your status.
- Don’t immediately return to work or contact your employer.
- Your case is not over if the doctor changes your status, so continue to comply with medical care.
- Take notes about what the doctor said immediately after the appointment to keep your memory fresh.
Tip #1: Get a copy of the work status report from the doctor
When an injured worker typically leaves a doctor’s appointment, they are given a stack of papers. These documents usually include information such as when their next appointment will be and maybe some home stretching exercises they can perform on their own. Most likely there will also be a sheet of paper which includes some basic information about the appointment.
This paper will include the time and date of the appointment, along with the name of the insurance carrier, the injured worker and the doctor or physician’s assistant seen. It should also have a space where the medical professional can handwrite the current work status of the injured worker or check off a box indicating their work status.
The 4 work status boxes are usually:
- Normal duty
- Light duty
- Sedentary duty
- No work
Sometimes there’s an area where the doctor or physician’s assistant can both indicate a predetermined work status and add commentary.
It’s very important to obtain and hold onto this sheet of paper after every appointment. Many times, people either throw away all the documents thinking they are unimportant or fail to ensure they have them prior to leaving an appointment.
There have been numerous occasions where we’ve had clients contact us and insist that the doctor has placed them on certain work restrictions. But when we ask what type of restrictions they are on, the injured worker has no idea and cannot find the paper.
This piece of paper contains some very important information, besides just the work status. As mentioned earlier, it has information about the insurance carrier. It may even include the name of the adjuster and/or nurse case manager working on the case. This can be invaluable to your attorney when trying to move your case forward in order to get approval for medical treatment or to ensure that indemnity benefits continue to be paid.
Tip #2: Contact your attorney immediately following the appointment
Taking a few minutes to contact your attorney after a visit to the authorized treating physician can help the injured worker in many different ways. First off, make sure you have an attorney who is responsive to you throughout your case. Having a discussion about your changed work status can alleviate a lot of nervousness and angst an injured worker may have.
Second, the sooner your attorney knows about any change in work status, the faster they can act to ensure that your rights are protected. If a doctor changes the injured worker’s limitations from light duty to no work, for example, their attorney can immediately begin the process to get temporary total disability benefits commenced. Once indemnity benefits have been commenced, a wide range of rights are available to the injured worker. Time is of the essence.
Third, your attorney can assist you with issues that may arise out of your work status. This may include changing authorized physicians because the doctor isn’t listening to you, or maybe you have only seen a physician’s assistant (not a doctor) and want a change.
For these reasons and more, it’s imperative to contact your attorney after a doctor’s visit when your work status has been changed.
Tip #3: Don’t argue with the doctor if they change your status
Throughout a workers’ compensation case, an eye should always be cast towards litigation. It’s better to be prepared to go to court than not. Arguing with a doctor when they have decided to change your work status will not help you at all.
For starters, usually the notes after the appointment paint the injured worker in a bad light and doesn’t help when a change of doctor is presented before a judge. It may appear that the injured worker is requesting a new doctor because of the work status change as opposed to the inadequate care they were getting.
Secondly, and almost importantly, arguing doesn’t work. In our decades of practice, we have yet to come across a situation when a doctor changed their opinion after complaints from an injured worker. It’s like the scene from the movie A Few Good Men, when Demi Moore’s character doesn’t like the judge’s ruling overturning her objection and she says, “(W)ell, I strenuously object.” It didn’t help her and may have weakened her position. The same is true with a change in work status. Notify your attorney and let them work on the issue on your behalf.
Tip #4: Don’t immediately return to work or contact your employer
Sometimes, injured workers attempt to take matters into their own hands and contact their employer as soon as their work status changes. This is a big no-no. A change in work status doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go back to work. A change from sedentary duty to light duty may not affect the employer’s availability to provide the injured worker with a job.
More importantly, injured workers’ have rights and protections once they are receiving indemnity benefits. The insurance carrier and the employer must comply with certain statutes in order to properly present an injured worker with a job.
Don’t jump the gun and immediately contact your employer. Once again, reach out to your attorney first so they can explain the legal ramifications of the change in status.
Tip #5: Your case is not over if the doctor changes your status, so continue to comply with medical care
Just because an authorized treating physician has changed your work status doesn’t mean your case is closed. We’ve had numerous clients over the years tell us that their doctor released them to go back to work, only to later discover that the only thing that had changed was their work status—from sedentary to light duty.
Furthermore, the injured worker has a chance to make a one-time change in authorized treating physicians. If an injured worker doesn’t get along with a doctor or feels that they are ignoring their complaints of pain, there is a method to change doctors. Simply refusing to continue treatment doesn’t help heal the injury, or move the case forward.
Tip #6: Take notes about what the doctor said immediately after the appointment to keep your memory fresh
It’s very important to tell your attorney what the doctor says after the visit in which your work status changes. You may be confused by what they say, or the specific language that is used. Write down exactly what is said in order to keep things straight. Words have very specific definitions when it comes to workers’ compensation and it’s important to ensure that you understand what the doctor is telling you.