The New York Times reported on a problem in personal injury and workers’ compensation cases that is well-known to plaintiff’s lawyers. Doctors who perform "independent medical examinations" (more accurately called, "defense medical examinations") routinely falsify their findings to minimize or dismiss real injuries in order to benefit the insurance companies who have hired the doctors to perform the examination. In one instance, the Times secretly videotaped a workers’ compensation examination, recording the defense doctor examining the injured worker and calling out findings such as "mild spasm bilaterally," and tenderness to the neck "even to light palpation."
The report this defense doctor submitted directly contradicted the findings the same doctor yelled out as he examined the worker. He reported finding no back spasms or neck tenderness. Indeed, the doctor reported that the worker was not injured at all and could return to work. When confronted by the investigative reporter, the doctor said, "If you did a pure [i.e., honest] report, you’d be out on your ears and the insurers wouldn’t pay for it." He added, "[y]ou have to give them what they want…[t]hat’s the game, baby." Fortunately for New York and other states, there are many honest doctors like Stephen M. Levin, M.D., who has been picked as interim medical director of the New York workers’ compensation board. Dr. Levin explained the defense medical examination scam as follows: "You go in there for a few minutes- and out comes a six-page detailed exam [report] that he never did." He added, "[t]here are some noble things you can do in medicine without treating. This ain’t one of them."
Many defense doctors will accept money to testify against an injured person they have not even examined. They simple review the person’s medical records and testify against the claimant without the charade of pretending to examine him. It’s one thing for a physician to examine a patient, see that the patient is in pain, and then write a report saying that he is not in pain. How in the world can a defense doctor access pain in a patient he’s never examined? He can’t, but that doesn’t stop them from doing it.
Why would members of such a noble profession engage in such sleazy behavior, you ask? The answer, as usual, is money. Some doctors make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year performing defense medical examinations. They have forgotten why they became doctors and are willing to forgo truth and healing for money. Not surprisingly, the Times reports that many of these defense examiners are older, semiretired physicians who no longer treat patients. One such septuagenarian said, "[b]asically, if you haven’t murdered anyone and you have a medical license, you get certified. It’s a nice way to semiretire." Nice indeed! Unless you’re the injured worker who is too hurt to work, but whose benefits are being cut off because the insurance doctor is looking to cash out in his dotage.