Employers or their NC workers’ comp insurance companies frequently require that injured NC workers submit to an Independent Medical Examination (IME). There are various justifications for this, including a second opinion on surgery or other medical treatment recommended by the authorized treating physician, an effort to obtain more favorable work restrictions, or as part of an effort to change treating physicians. The IME is often used by NC workers’ comp insurers simply to get a second bite at the apple. When an IME is scheduled it frequently means that the employer is preparing to contest a medical issue in your NC workers’ comp case.
Injured NC workers do have some protections relating to IME’s under NC workers’ compensation laws. For example an employee has the right to have his or her own physician present at the exam. Independent Medical Examinations in NC are controlled by NCGS §97-27. There is no requirement that the employer accept the claim in order to get an Independent Medical Examination. An employer can require an IME even if the NC workers’ comp claim is denied and the employer is refusing to pay medical benefits.
The IME must be with a physician licensed and practicing in North Carolina and be at a reasonable time and place. Driving distance, unless it is extreme, will generally not prevent an IME. An employee who claims workers’ comp in NC and refuses to attend an Independent Medical Examination runs the risk that his or her workers compensation benefits will be cut off until he or she complies.
Unlike in most medical treatment an employer or its insurance company is allowed to communicate directly with the IME physician. The IME doctor’s report and all communications to the doctor from the employer must be provided to the injured worker within ten days of the receipt of the report by the employer.
An Independent Medical Examination is not a change in your workers’ comp doctor or “authorized treating physician,” although it may be a clue that the employer is headed that direction. An IME is also not the same thing as an employee’s right to a second opinion, which is provided under other provisions of NC workers’ comp law.
If you have a workers’ compensation case in North Carolina and your employer has scheduled an Independent Medical Examination you should consult your NC workers’ compensation attorney. Your NC workers’ comp lawyer can help you decide whether to contest the IME or at least help minimize the potential damage.