Surprisingly, many employers do not know of this requirement. The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act provides that employers shall provide injured employees with a panel of physicians from which to select a treating physician. A 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 had not commenced a course of treatment with his own physician.
The panel of physicians must contain the names of at least three qualified physicians selected by the employer each located within a reasonable distance from the employee’s residence. The panel should 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). Posting a notice or advising employees of the company panel during safety meetings is not sufficient.
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 required to accept treatment from the chosen physician and is not at liberty to change therefrom unless referred by the treating physician, confronted with an emergency, or given permission by the employer and/or its insurer or the 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 choice when an employer or carrier has denied a claim. 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. 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.
While an employer has the duty to provide injured employees with a panel of physicians, 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.