Pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §50-6-204(a)(1)(A), an employer or its agent shall provide, at no expense to an employee, such medical care and treatment made reasonably necessary by a work-related accident as defined by the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Act. Reasonable and necessary treatment includes medical and surgical treatment, medical and surgical supplies, hospitalization, nursing services, psychological services, dental services, crutches, artificial members, and prescription eyeglasses or eyewear.
To meet its statutory obligation, an employer or its agent shall extend a panel of three independent, reputable physicians within the employee’s local community from which the employee may select an authorized treating physician for the work injury. If there is a lack of physicians in the employee’s local community, an employer may include physicians within a 100 mile radius. However, in order for the panel to be valid, each physician listed must be willing and able to render treatment in a timely manner.
The employer or its agent, immediately upon report of an injury but no later than three business days, shall extend the panel of physicians using a C42 form entitled Employee’s Choice of Physician. The employee shall make a physician selection and sign the form. The employer shall maintain the original executed document with the employee receiving a copy. Alternatively, the employee may verbally select from the panel and his or her appearance at the first appointment signals acceptance of the panel choice.
Medical treatment shall commence after the physician’s selection as soon as practicable. In the event that the Employee requires emergent care, the employer shall offer the employee’s Choice of Physician Panel once the employee reaches stable condition and is otherwise able to select a treating physician.
The importance of following the technical requirements of extending panels should not be overlooked. In Berndnick v. Fairfield Glade Community Club, the Appeals Board noted that failing to properly extend a valid panel could cause the employer to lose control over the employee’s medical treatment and be ordered to pay medical expenses the employer would not otherwise have to pay. Practically, however, the employer or its agent could also face penalties, as well as pay additional temporary indemnity benefits and higher permanent indemnity benefits caused by a delay in treatment. On a positive note, the opinion of the panel physician is presumed to be correct on the issue of causation.