Liability for workers' comp exams

February 1, 2008

A couple of colleagues have told me that there's no true doctor-patient relationship in a workers' compensation exam because it's conducted at the request of the employer, not the patient. Do I still have to worry about malpractice liability?

A couple of colleagues have told me that there's no true doctor-patient relationship in a workers' compensation exam because it's conducted at the request of the employer, not the patient. Do I still have to worry about malpractice liability?

In most cases, no, as long as you don't offer medical advice, treat the employee, or injure him in the course of the exam.

However, in some states, courts have held that physicians have a duty to inform an employee when an exam reveals an abnormality or positive finding that could lead to the diagnosis of a serious illness or condition. This is also the stance of the AMA's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs. So be sure to notify the patient in such a case and advise him to seek care from a qualified physician. Document your actions in the chart.