A Nov. 5 decision handed down from the Georgia Supreme Court has reversed a landmark workers' compensation case related to medical release information. The ruling, which decided the case of an injured Arby's restaurant worker, dictated that employers' attorneys have the right to discuss medical information with the physicians that treat workers' compensation cases. Medical information disclosed during these meetings may only be related to the compensated injury, however.
The case involved a woman who had sustained serious burns after accidentally drinking from a glass of chemicals while in the break room. She underwent several years' treatment through the workers' compensation program after signing a standard release form providing for the dissemination of her medical records to relevant parties such as her employer.
After the woman's physician declared she had reached maximum improvement of 65 percent permanent impairment, an attorney from her employer sought a meeting with her physician to confirm the diagnosis. The physician refused to meet without the woman or her attorney, however, and the woman herself refused to sign a release form even after she was ordered to do so by an administrative judge.
The Georgia Supreme Court decision effectively forces the woman to submit her medical information to review by her employer through a meeting with her treating physician. This ruling provides a clearer set of requirements for both employers and physicians themselves, who had worried about violating health privacy legislation by unnecessarily disclosing information.
Legal advocates say the ruling allows for free communication about workers' injuries. Employers and employees alike play important roles in resolving workers' compensation for injured parties. A company's attorney can thus have a post-treatment conference with the worker's treating physician in order to ensure appropriate and legal care has been provided to the employee. This process protects both the employer and the worker.
Employees thus need to be aware that their employer is a partner throughout the workers' compensation claim process. Still, many employers attempt to manipulate the law to avoid paying for legitimate injuries on the job. Those employers can still be held accountable through other legal processes, though they will ultimately still be permitted to access medical records related to the at-work injury.
Source: The Telegraph, "Employer's corner: Supreme Court OKs conversations with doctors," Jason Logan, Nov. 13, 2012