A physician does not have to investigate whether an injury or illness was
caused by the work environment. The doctor’s role is to provide good medical
care. The workers’ compensation system will decide whether the problem is
work related. The doctor should keep good records that include information
about underlying medical problems and that differentiate between what the
patient said and what were objective findings.
If either the doctor or the patient thinks the problem may be work related, the
doctor should contact the employer. The employer can provide information
about the work environment and the availability of work accommodations. This
is good business as well as good medicine. Large employers are constantly
looking for physicians in the community who are acceptable to the employees
and cooperative with the company. In some cases the company may remove
the patient from care, but they may also send the doctor more business.
There are also situations where the employee may firmly believe that their
problem is work related when it clearly is not. The patient with asthma may be
convinced that he was exposed to chemical fumes at work. A call to the
employer may provide the information that the work environment is
continuously monitored for toxins and that the only exposure was to the air-
freshener in the bathroom.
Talk to the appropriate people at the company if there are questions about
whether the problem is work related. “It seems reasonable” is not a good
reason for accusing a company of wrongdoing. One inappropriate public remark
can cost a business millions of dollars and defamation is not covered by your
medical malpractice insurance.