The First District Court of Appeal issued a recent decision providing further clarification of the employer/carrier’s obligations to satisfy a claimant’s request for a new doctor under the “one time change of physician” provision found in 440.13(2)(f). The decision in Velez v. Coadvantage, Epoch Management/CCMSI, Case No. 1D16-5496 (opinion issued June 19, 2017) is a positive one for employer/carriers.
In Velez, the claimant’s authorized orthopedic specialist, Dr. Munson with Jewett Orthopedic Clinic, retired from his medical practice in 2015. Thereafter, the employer/carrier authorized Dr. Weber with Orlando Orthopaedics to replace Dr. Munson as the authorized physician. In June of 2016, the claimant filed a petition for benefits seeking a new orthopedic physician asserting his statutory right under the one time change provision. In response to this written request, the carrier timely authorized Dr. Meinhardt with the Jewett Orthopedic Clinic—the clinic of the original treating doctor who retired. The claimant refused to see Dr. Meinhardt and filed a second petition requesting another orthopedic because Dr. Meinhardt was professionally affiliated with the same practice group as his original orthopedic specialist, Dr. Munson. The claimant argued that the E/C must authorize a new orthopedic who was not professionally affiliated with any prior authorized doctor. The JCC rejected this argument and reasoned that the statutory language prohibited professional affiliation with only the immediately preceding authorized doctor, which in this case was Dr. Weber with Orlando Orthopaedic. The JCC found the Employer/Carrier had met its obligations of the clear and unambiguous language under the one time change statute.
Section 440.13 (2)(f) authorizes the claimant to request a change of physician once during the course of treatment of the compensable injury. Upon receiving such a request, the E/C has five calendar days to authorize (and specifically name) an alternative physician “who shall not be professional affiliated with the previous physician (emphasis added).”
On appeal, the 1st DCA found it was undisputed that Dr. Meinhardt (Jewett) was not professionally affiliated with Dr. Weber (Orlando Orthopaedic) even though he was professionally affiliated with Dr. Munson (Jewett). Analyzing the statutory language, the DCA held that the one time change provision clearly and unambiguously refers to “the single immediate prior authorized treating physician.” Thus, the Court reasoned that Dr. Weber is “the previously authorized physician” for the purposes of the one time change statute; hence, according to the court’s holding, the employer/carrier fully complied with the statutory requirements.
The Velez case will be helpful for employer/carriers, especially in areas of Florida with a limited pool of doctors that will treat workers’ compensation patients. This case may help keep claimants in the local geographic area, and therefore will help carriers avoid the cost of out of town transportation. As a general reminder, it is very important to work with defense attorneys and nurses to timely authorize one time change physicians in accordance with the law in order to maintain medical control of the claim. Our attorneys are available statewide to assist you in the selection of one time change providers in all of your cases.