Occupational Physician–Patient Relationship
Most of the law on occupational medical services involves full-time employee physicians working for the employer, or contract physicians who only perform screening examinations. In these cases, the courts have found that patients receiving occupational medical services and examinations do not have the expectation of a full physician–patient relationship in all situations. If the physician is performing a screening examination for someone other than the patient, such as an employer or insurer, there is no physician–patient relationship. The patient must be told of abnormal results that the medical care practitioner knows of, but may not sue for failure to detect problems. [Tumblin v. Ball-Incon Glass Packaging Corp., 478 S.E.2d 81 (S.C. App. 1996).] The physician can be liable if he or she injures the patient during the examination. [Mero v. Sadoff, 31 Cal. App. 4th 1466, 37 Cal. Rptr. 2d 769 (Cal. App. 2 Dist. 1995).] If the occupational medicine physician treats the patient, there is a physician–patient relationship for that treatment and the physician will be liable for any medical malpractice. The physician’s duty will be limited to the injury and conditions related to it. There is no broader duty to evaluate the patient’s condition, even if such evaluation would be standard of care in a non–occupational medicine setting.