Employers are faced with numerous issues after a work accident, but are not always sure of their rights and duties following these incidents. One major concern is how an injured employee will obtain treatment for his or her condition. Virginia law actually speaks directly to that point, and requires an employer to provide a panel of physicians to an injured employee. Surprisingly, many employers do not know of this requirement. The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act states that employers shall provide injured employees with a panel of physicians from which to select a treating physician. The law serves several purposes, including (1) ensuring that injured employees are provided with care options; (2) ensuring that employers provide injured employees with prompt access to capable medical professionals; and (3) reducing the cost of workers’ compensation medical and disability claims for employers and workers’ compensation insurance providers by directing injured employees to a pre-selected panel of trustworthy physicians that are focused on the employees’ full recovery and quick return to work.

The Employer’s Rights and Duties under the Law

The panel of physicians must be provided within a reasonable time after a work accident, otherwise the employee may seek treatment from a physician of his or her own choice. The appropriate time in which a panel may be furnished varies from case to case depending upon the different circumstances involved. An employer’s delay in providing a panel of physicians would be reasonable where the employer did not know of the need for medical treatment, and where the employee has not commenced a course of treatment with his own physician. Posting a notice or advising employees of the company panel during safety meetings is not sufficient.

The panel of physicians must contain the names of at least three qualified physicians selected by the employer and located within a reasonable distance from the employee’s residence. The panel should also consist of physicians familiar with the employer, able to meet the needs of the employee’s injuries, and knowledgeable about the employer’s return to work program. The panel should not contain names of physicians who share an interest in the same practice and it also should not contain names of medical facilities (as opposed to the designation of physicians). The employer cannot refuse to provide the employee with full medical service and also insist that he or she seek medical care only from physicians it selects, because such a policy would require an employee to seek treatment from a physician chosen by the employer but would not require the employer to pay the physician’s charges.

The Employee’s Rights and Duties under the Law The employee is required to make a selection from the panel of physicians if it is a proper panel and if it is offered before the employee forms a treating physician relationship. The employee is also required to accept treatment from the chosen physician and change to another physician unless referred by the treating physician, confronted with an emergency, or given permission by the employer and/or its insurer or the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission. If no panel is offered, the employee is free to choose his or her own physician. Moreover, an employee may select a physician of his or her own choosing when an employer or carrier has denied a claim.

The Impact of the Law

Requiring employers to provide injured employees with a panel of physicians may seem burdensome but, in the long-run, this requirement is helpful for the employer. Providing a panel of physicians is one way for the employer to reduce the cost of workers’ compensation claims and better manage medical treatment and disability by directing the injured employee to a panel physician. Workers’ compensation insurance carriers are required to offer policyholders physician or panel suggestions. Regardless of whether a company has an established physician panel, in the event of an emergency, injured employees should be taken to the hospital or emergency care facility of their choosing or closest in proximity for immediate attention.

If your business does not have a panel of physicians, now is as good a time as ever to set up your panel so that you are compliant with the law. Doing so will not only ensure that you are following the law, but will also help you provide better care to your workers and save your business insurance premium cost, health care costs, and the costs associated with lost productivity.