The Illinois Workers Compensation Act (820 ILCS 305, et. seq.) allows an employer to demand an “independent medical exam” of an employee claiming to be injured on the job. The purpose of the exam is to protect the employer by making sure the employee is really injured, needs time off or needs additional medical treatment. An Independent Medical Exam (IME) is a counterpoint against a treating doctor who may be too friendly, ie. biased, to the employee’s case, and protect the employer against unwarranted costs.
But are IME’s really independent? The Independent Medical Exam is paid for by the employer or their insurance company. No medical treatment is offered. No doctor-patient relationship is established. Injured workers often complain that the IME lasts little more than 10 minutes and that nothing significant happens during that time. If the employee asks the IME for a copy of his findings, the patient is likely told to “get them from your lawyer.”
Is this the kind of treatment you’d expect from a nonpartisan “independent” medical physician?”
No. The IME physician’s goal is generally to minimize employer cost by getting the employee back to work as soon as possible, or to stop medical treatment the IME believes to be unnecessary. The IME physician’s allegiance is to the insurance company paying them, your opponent in an Illinois workman's comp lawsuit.
With this in mind, an employee needs to be careful about how (s)he interacts with an IME physician. The employee needs to prepare for the IME. Understand that the IME doctor is not your doctor. Be honest in answering questions and going through your physical examination and tests but do not expect the IME physician to see things through your eyes. Their eyes are looking out for the insurance company, not for you. Make sure you tell your workers' compensation attorney about anything out of the ordinary that occurred during the evaluation. If there is a dispute in the findings between the treating and IME physician, an arbitrator will have the opportunity to hear the full testimony during trial and will decide whose opinion is more credible.
For further explanation of Illinois workers compensation law, watch as Chicago personal injury attorney Mitchell Lipkin explains the basic process of a case:
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