Can I Go to My Own Doctor for Workers’ Comp in Chicago, IL?

Man sitting at table and giving paper sheet to worker with broken arm.

Can I go to my own doctor for workers’ comp? Often, when injured workers in Chicago, IL, file for workers’ compensation, their employers tell them to see a specific doctor. A common misconception is that you must see a company-approved physician for treatment. However, you can go to your own doctor for workers’ comp if you wish.

Read on to learn the laws regarding choosing a doctor after getting injured on the job.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation System

Almost all employers in Chicago, Illinois, are required to provide workers’ compensation to employees injured on the job, although exceptions may apply to people such as sole proprietors. By providing workers’ compensation insurance, employers can ensure their employees get compensated in case of an injury.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission gets involved when there is a dispute between a worker and his or her employer regarding workers’ compensation.

When Should You Report Your Work Injury?

In Illinois, you must report your work injury to your employer or supervisor within 45 days of the injury. That gives you some time to seek medical attention first.

Sometimes, injuries are caused due to repetitive stress or exposure to toxic materials. In such cases, you have 45 days from when you were aware that your workplace was the cause of your injury.

For example, let’s say you have been suffering from tingling and numbness in one or both arms. You visit a medical professional, and he or she determines that it is carpal tunnel syndrome due to typing all day at work. While you should ideally report the injury to your boss as soon as you can, you have 45 days from the diagnosis to report it.

There are some exceptions. For example, if your injury was due to radiation exposure, you have 90 days from when you became aware that you were exposed.

This deadline is not to be confused with the deadline for filing your claim. Notifying your employer is only the first step. While you have 45 days to notify your employer, orally or in writing, of your injury, you have three years to file your workers’ comp claim.

Notifying your employer too late is one of the most common mistakes to avoid when filing a workers’ comp claim. In many situations, you may forfeit your right to file for compensation if you don’t notify your employer on time.

Importance of Immediate Medical Attention for Workplace Injuries

When you suffer an injury on the job, your first step should be receiving immediate medical attention. Delaying medical treatment could cause your injury to get worse and lead to complications.

Sometimes, injuries can be hard to spot. For example, if you suffered a concussion, you might not be aware of it right away. The symptoms may only show up later. Similarly, you might not notice the symptoms of internal bleeding immediately.

That’s why, regardless of the injury, you should visit a medical professional without delay.

Prompt medical attention also provides proof of your injuries. A physician can confirm the injuries you suffered, helping you determine how much to ask for when filing your workers’ compensation claim.

Can You Choose Your Own Doctor for Workers’ Compensation in Illinois?

When you are injured, you should visit the emergency room or see a doctor if you require immediate treatment. If you need medical care before you have notified your employer of your injury, you have the right to seek it at any hospital and from any provider.

After notifying your employer, he or she may request that you see a company-approved physician or visit a “company clinic,” which is a clinic the company has contracted with to provide care to injured workers.

That’s because employers often have a PPP (Preferred Providers Program). In Illinois, a PPP allows employers to create a network of pre-approved doctors to treat their injured workers. If your employer has a PPP, you can select two doctors from this network for ongoing treatment.

However, must you see a workers’ compensation doctor in your employer’s PPP, or do you have another option? What if you don’t like that doctor’s opinion?

Employer’s Right to Select an Initial Treating Physician

Employers do have the right to have a Preferred Providers Program. However, workers also have the right to opt out of the PPP.

Even if you didn’t opt out of your employer’s PPP before the injury, you can still opt out after the injury – even after starting treatment. You are free to opt out at any time by informing your employer, in writing, of your decision.

If you opt out, you are free to choose one provider of your choice for medical care instead of two providers from your employer’s PPP network.

In addition, even after selecting a treating physician, you can switch your physician at will.

For example, if your physician tells you to return to work, but you don’t feel able to, seeking out a second opinion is worth looking into. Another doctor may assess your current condition and tell you to take more time to rest.

Are There Exceptions to the Employer’s Choice?

Your employer can order an IME (Independent Medical Evaluation) while you are receiving workers’ compensation benefits. Your employer is allowed to select a specific doctor, and you can’t select another doctor in his or her place.

This doctor’s opinion won’t be enough to deny your claim. Nevertheless, if he or she finds major discrepancies in your medical report, it could be used as a basis to open an investigation into your claim.

Workers’ compensation lawyers can advise you how to proceed if, during an IME, the employer-selected doctor claims there are discrepancies in your medical report.

Pros and Cons of Using Your Own Doctor for Workers’ Compensation

There are both pros and cons to selecting your own doctor.

Many workers opt to use doctors they are familiar with. Going to a new clinic or doctor’s office and familiarizing yourself with the nurses, staff, and appointment booking process there could be overwhelming, especially if you are already suffering and in pain.

It’s often easier to stay in your comfort zone and see a doctor you already know. Your doctor will also be familiar with your medical history. Therefore, he or she may be able to advise you better and select the most appropriate treatment for you.

Your usual physician may also be more accurate in assessing your readiness to return to work. After all, he or she would be familiar with how well you respond to treatment and how long it takes for your body to heal from illnesses or injuries.

On the other hand, your family doctor may not deal with workers’ compensation cases often. Thus, he or she may not be familiar with the workers’ compensation claims process, which may lead to delays in receiving benefits.

A doctor in your employer’s PPP will likely be more familiar with the claims process and can guide you in collecting documentation of your injuries and proving your inability to work.

Additionally, an employer-selected doctor, while not as familiar with your history, may be more familiar with the types of injuries common at your workplace. For example, if you are a railroad worker or work in a factory, a doctor in the PPP may be familiar with the effects of exposure to chemicals you may come into contact with during your work.

Tips for Working With the Employer’s Chosen Doctor

Sometimes, working with an employer’s chosen doctor is the right choice.

You may feel like he or she is biased and will tell you to return to work before you are ready to. That’s not always the case.

While the company is sending its doctors new patients by including them in its Preferred Providers Program, medical professionals are required to operate without bias and not be motivated by profits when making medical decisions.

However, if you feel like the doctor is biased, feel free to opt out at any time. Do not feel pressured to retain that doctor, as your peace of mind during treatment and rehabilitation is critical. If your employer is pressuring you to keep seeing a certain doctor, contact an attorney for advice.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask the doctor questions about the diagnosis and medical advice you are given. If you are being cleared to return to work before you feel ready to do so, don’t keep quiet about it. Make your opinion heard and consult with an attorney for your options. As always, regardless of which doctor you choose, make sure you follow this workers’ compensation checklist