If there is a valid panel, the Employee must treat with a panel doctor, except in case of a medical emergency or a referral from a panel doctor. On the other hand, if the panel is invalid for any reason, the employee would be allowed to seek treatment at the employer’s expense with any doctor of their choosing. Unsurprisingly, this often leads to substantially increased costs for a claim.
Our number one piece of advice regarding panels is to make sure the doctors are all currently practicing and that they accept workers’ compensation insurance. We would recommend confirming the validity of the panel at least once a year, if not more – if even one doctor has moved, stopped practicing medicine, etc., the panel is invalid. Furthermore, updating the panel gives employers the chance to develop relationships with the panel doctors, who play an integral role in getting Claimant’s back to work and off benefits. Our experience is that doctors are more inclined to approve light duty if they know the employers and understand their business.
We also recommend taking steps to ensure the employee cannot allege there was no panel or that it was not explained to them, which is another approach employees take to circumvent the panel. At a minimum, we would recommend having employees sign a form indicating that they are aware of the panel, its purpose, and where it is posted. In fact, some employers have even gone as far as taking a picture of each employee next to the posted panel so there is no question it has been shown to them. Furthermore, once an accident has been reported, the employee should be asked to indicate in writing which panel doctor they are selecting. This can be accomplished by giving the employee a copy of the panel so they can circle and date their selection.
If you have any questions regarding the panel or need any advice on putting a panel together, please do not hesitate to contact us.