Independent Medical Examinations: An Expanding Source of Physician Liability
Broadly defined, an independent medical examination (IME) is any health assessment conducted by a physician, not otherwise involved in the care or treatment of the patient, at the request of a third party that is not the physician's general employer. Most commonly, physicians conduct IMEs at the request of employers seeking to determine the health status of their employees, although the circumstances vary. Data are not available on the precise number of IMEs performed each year; however, given the vast number of employers and other interested third parties, it is safe to assume that they number in the tens of thousands, if not more. Yet few physicians appreciate the potential liability they incur as a result of such engagements. Many physicians believe that when they conduct examinations at the request of a hiring third party, as opposed to the patient, there is no physician–patient relationship and, hence, no potential malpractice liability. But as several courts have recently declared, it is not that simple.