Workers’ Compensation Medical Treatment During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Under The North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act, an injured employee may seek a second opinion from a physician upon which the parties agree. N.C.G.S. § 97-25(b). Likewise, employers may request an Independent Medical Evaluation (IME) of the injured employee. N.C.G.S. § 97-27(a). In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many medical providers that treat work-related injuries such as orthopedists, pain management providers, and urgent care facilities, have moved to treating some patients via telemedicine. Some providers have stopped taking new patients altogether. This poses challenges for employers and carriers seeking to either exercise their right to an IME or to find an acceptable second opinion provider upon which both parties can agree.
Moreover, telemedicine visits pose an issue for employers and carriers in that the plaintiff cannot be observed in person by the physician. Credibility of pain complaints and physical examination results are often critical pieces of evidence in work-related injury claims. Without seeing the patient in person, it may be difficult for medical providers to make notes about the patient that are as detailed and accurate as those they may have made had the patient been physically present in the office. Additionally, if the plaintiff is a new patient to this physician, assessing the true nature of the injury could be increasingly problematic. This may create a host of issues for employers and carriers, including disputed treatment recommendations and obtaining evidence in future medical depositions.
With mediations and some hearings continuing to go forward in workers’ compensation cases, it has already proven difficult to obtain an Independent Medical Evaluation and second opinion in claims prior to settlement conferences or appearances before the Commission. Attorneys and carriers should consider the reliable and objective experts they have utilized in the past to obtain an opinion based on prior medical records in cases where the plaintiff cannot be seen in person. The long-term effects of this are yet to be seen, but one thing is certain: the statutory rights of employers and carriers are stifled by the COVID-19 pandemic with regard to properly assessing the medical evidence in a workers’ compensation claim.
If you have questions or wish to discuss this further, please contact one of our workers’ compensation attorneys.
This update provides general information and does not provide tailored legal advice or establish an attorney-client relationship.