The Workers’ Compensation Act allows the employer (or insurance carrier) to select the medical provider who will treat the injured worker. It seems that in many cases, workers are forced to be seen by medical providers who seem more interested in ensuring a steady flow in the pipeline of patients than in objectively treating the injured worker without regard to who is footing the bill. The Supreme Court has acknowledged the existence of these competing values:
“The first is the value of allowing an employee, as far as possible, to choose his own doctor. This value stems from the confidential nature of the doctor-patient relation, from the desirability of the patient's trusting the doctor, and from various other considerations. The other desirable value is that of achieving the maximum standards of rehabilitation by permitting the compensation system to exercise continuous control of the nature and quality of medical services from the moment of injury. If the injured employee has completely unlimited free choice of his doctor, in some cases he may select a doctor, because of personal relationship or acquaintance, who is not qualified to deal with the particular kind of case, or who at any rate is incapable of providing service of the quality required for the optimum rehabilitation process.”
City of Auburn v. Brown, 638 So. 2d 1339, 1340-41 (Ala. Civ. App. 1993) (cites omitted).
The Court of Civil Appeals noted that “[b]y developing a system for the selection of a treating physician in § 25-5-77, the Alabama Legislature was apparently attempting to strike a balance between the two values.” Id.
There are a variety of problems that can arise in this area. Many times, injured workers are required to be treated by medical providers who are located hours away from the workers’ homes because the employer or insurance carrier requires treatment by distant medical providers while bypassing closer, equally qualified medical providers. There are times when workers are required to see doctors who have no credibility with courts but whose opinions are notoriously favorable to the employer. Perhaps it is in recognition of credibility issues that the Supreme Court has held that medical causation as an element of the employee's burden of proof in a workers' compensation case could be found from evidence other than that supplied by the testimony of doctors. Ex parte Price, 555 So. 2d 1060 (Ala. 1989).There are times when a panel of four physicians consists of two or more medical specialties. Often, a panel might consist of doctors who are semi-retired and no longer offering surgical services. If the goal is to obtain the maximum rehabilitation for workers, then there should be standards that apply to those who are offering medical care to injured workers. doctors may charge for giving depositions in Workers’ Compensation cases. Another way to further this goal would be to follow Florida’s lead and place a maximum rate that doctors may charge for giving depositions in Workers’ Compensation cases. It is not uncommon for doctors to charges in excess of $1,500 an hour for giving a deposition in a Workers’ Compensation case. This money comes directly out of the pocket of the injured worker and right into the hands of the doctor who is supposed to be helping the injury worker. This should be changed!