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In line with Governor’s Newsom’s stay-at home order in response to the COVID-19 crisis issued on March 19, the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) encourages primary treating physicians to continue to manage injured workers’ care through telehealth options whenever medically appropriate. Telehealth options include remote visits via video-conferencing, video-calling or similar such technology that allows each party to see each other via a video connection. These are viable alternatives to in-person physical examinations for medical-legal evaluations.

DWC urges all parties to work together with the primary treating physician to anticipate and resolve any potential disputes that may result from a request for a medical-legal evaluation by a Qualified Medical Evaluator (QME).

During the stay-at-home order (up to May 1, 2020), DWC finds that it may be beneficial for parties to allow telehealth for QME evaluations when an in-person physical examination is not necessary. DWC strongly recommends that all of the following conditions apply to a telehealth evaluation to promote the health and safety of all parties:

1. The injured worker is able to participate in the telehealth evaluation without violating the stay-at-home order.
2. The medical issue in dispute is determined to be essential to an injured worker’s benefits and must be addressed no later than May 1, 2020. The dispute must involve:
— a. An evaluation relating to whether or not the injury is Arising Out of Employment/Course of Employment (AOE/COE),
— b. Termination of an injured worker’s indemnity benefit payments, or
— c. Work restrictions
3. There is written agreement of the injured worker, carrier or employer, and the QME.
4. The telehealth evaluation is consistent with appropriate medical practices and ethical considerations.
5. The QME attests that the evaluation of the injured worker can be done effectively and safely by way of a telehealth evaluation and does not require an in-person physical examination.

DWC encourages all parties to evaluate whether medical-legal evaluations (which involve in-person physical evaluations) should be cancelled or postponed as part of the stay-at-home response to COVID-19. In some instances, a reasonable interpretation of compliance with the stay-at-home order could mean that medical-legal, face-to-face evaluations should be postponed or canceled, if it requires the injured worker or others to travel and interact with anyone outside of their immediate household.

A note on telehealth visits during this emergency: The decision as to when a telehealth visit can be employed must rest on the principles of appropriate and ethical medical practice. An in-person physical examination is necessary if the injured employee’s relevant health issues are such that a physical examination done in person has significant likelihood to contribute to the examiner’s ability to formulate an accurate diagnosis, or to more accurately gauge the outcome of treatment already provided. In such an instance, parties should evaluate whether the evaluation can be cancelled or postponed. If such circumstances do not require an in-person examination, then a telehealth visit should be allowed.

DWC understands that strict adherence to the time limits for scheduling, canceling or rescheduling a medical-legal evaluation, or for serving a medical-legal report, may be impractical or impossible during this public health crisis. During the month of April, DWC encourages parties to agree upon reasonable allowances and agreements.

The issue of whether a medical-legal report is admissible or constitutes substantial medical evidence is determined in accordance with applicable laws and is not altered by these emergency measures.

At the end of April, DWC will reevaluate whether additional emergency responses related to QME telehealth evaluations are necessary due to the COVID-19 crisis.