Independent Medical Evaluation Best PracticesChristopher Brigham, MD, Lorne K. Direnfeld, MD, Steven Feinberg, MD, MPH, Les Kertay, PhD, and James B. Talmage, MDAn independent medical evaluation (IME) is “ausually one-time evaluation performed by anindependent medical examiner who is not treatingthe patient or claimant, to answer questions posedby the party requesting the IME” (6th ed, 612). Standardsare “a required or agreed level of quality or attainment” and“are used as measure, norm or model in comparative evaluations.”1 Adherence to best practice standards is essential toachieving excellence. Standards may change over time; andthis article updates work published in 2000, 2002, and 2005in the AMA Guides Newsletter.2, 3, 4The tangible result of an IME is the report. An IMEreport may contain more elements than an impairmentevaluation, as explained in the Sixth Edition, Section 2.7,Preparing Reports (6th ed, 28-29) and the Fifth Edition,Section 2.6, Preparing Reports (5th ed, 21-22). Assessingimpairment and disability in the pain patient, one of themost common IME scenarios, is particularly challenging.5High-quality IME reports that are based on thorough andaccurate evaluations, are valuable and assist with appropriate case and litigation management and closure. However,obtaining an excellent IME is difficult for many clients.6IME StandardsIME standards are essential to the evaluating physician andall other stakeholders including the examinees, treatingproviders, benefit payers, employers, fact finders, and/orattorneys. These standards include the following: Definition of IME and principles,Examiner qualifications,Evaluation methodology (preevaluation, evaluation,and post-evaluation),Report structure, andQuality assurance.There is variability in the needs of an IME based on thejurisdiction and the specifics of the case; therefore, these arerecommended guidelines and not necessarily absolutes forall evaluations.Definitions and PrinciplesAn IME is a unique and specialized evaluation that is performed by a physician who preferably has special trainingand experience in the IME field. Although IMEs are similarin some ways to conventional medical evaluations, there arealso distinct differences.An IME is:I: Independent (Impartial). The physician (evaluator)must arrive at his or her own diagnosis and opinion,independent of the referral source, remuneration, orothers’ opinions. We all have personal biases that arebased on our experiences and knowledge. For example,in assessing causation, a physician may base conclusions on the facts and current science and anotherphysician may base conclusions solely on a temporalsequence (ie, “since event Y followed event X, eventY must have been caused by event X”). These differing approaches may be perceived as more favorable tocertain stakeholders but may not necessarily represent abias in favor of those stakeholders. Physicians who arebiased for the defense or the plaintiff are not impartial.The examiner cannot have been or be involved in theexaminee’s (evaluee’s, patient’s, claimant’s, or plaintiff’s)care in the past, present, or future. No physician–patientrelationship is created by these evaluations.M: Medical. An IME involves the essential elementsof a medical assessment, including history, examination, and review of relevant records and diagnosticstudies. If the examinee is not directly seen and henceno interview or physical examination is performed, theterm “independent medical (record or file) review” maybe used. Although most evaluations are performed bymedical (allopathic or osteopathic) physicians, in somecircumstances, they may be performed by a psychologist, neuropsychologist, oral surgeon or other dentist,chiropractor, naturopath, podiatrist, or physical oroccupational therapist. Those evaluations share manyof the same features outlined herein, but there may alsobe specialty-specific considerations that are outside thescope of this article.E: Evaluation (Examination). The purpose of an IMEis to evaluate issues relevant to the claim and answerthe referring client’s questions.Impartiality, objectivity, and an understanding of bothclinical and medicolegal issues are required. In manyjurisdictions, the IME report may be considered part ofa requesting attorney’s work product, and access to thereport may initially be restricted to the requesting source.However, if legal issues remain unresolved, the report isusually made available to all parties in the dispute undercourt rules of discovery. It is then likely to be read by manystakeholders in the claim and should be easily understoodby nonmedical personnel.Research on the reliability of medical evaluations ofdisability for work is limited and indicates high variationin judgments among assessing professionals. Standardizingthe evaluation process could improve reliability; therefore,structured best practice approaches are needed.7September/October 2017001 S ept Oct G UIDE S 2017 o1 4C .indd 3 AMA Guides Newsletter310/19/17 12:17 P M

Independent Medical Evaluation Best Practices, continuedArenasTABLE 1. Independent Medical Evaluation vs ConventionalAn IME is an integral part of case and litigation management and is used widely, both in the United States andinternationally, by insurers, claims administrators, employers, and attorneys in a variety of arenas. These includeautomobile casualty, workers’ compensation, personalinjury, medical malpractice, and long-term disability, asillustrated in Figure 1.FIGURE 1. Independent Medical Evaluation Areas Automobile casualty Personal injury (civil litigation) Workers’ compensationState Example: California: AgreedMedical Evaluation and QualifiedMedical Evaluation Federal–Office of WorkersCompensation Program Federal Employee’s Compensation Energy Employees’ OccupationalInjury Compensation Longshore and Harbor Workers’Compensation Division of Coal Mine Workers’Compensation Disability Long term Short term Social Security Retirement disability Railroad Medical malpractice The arena is determined by the contractual or regulatorycontext of the subject case and by jurisdiction, for example, state or provincial, or federal. The context determinesspecific standards for the evaluation, the types of issuesaddressed, and the report. For example, causation is oftenimportant in workers’ compensation, personal injury, andautomobile casualty cases but is typically irrelevant in along-term disability claim. Because of the variability inarenas and the specific requirements of each case, it isimpossible to define all requirements of a specific IMEreport.IME vs Traditional Clinical EvaluationAn IME has many features in common with a conventionalmedical evaluation, including taking a history, performing aphysical examination, obtaining or reviewing relevant diagnostic studies, and making a diagnosis. However, an IMEreport differs from conventional medical chart notes andconsultation reports in several important ways, as illustratedin Table 1.4AMA Guides Newsletter001 S ept Oct G UIDE S 2017 o1 4C .indd 4Medical ReportASPECTS ICALEVALUATIONGoalCase managementand evaluationClinical carePhysicianIndependentTreating orconsultingVisits, prior orfuture, with physicianNoYes, possiblePhysician–patientRelationshipNo (or limited)YesVisitsOneMultiple possibleReaderClaims professionals, Health careattorneys, fact finder providersHistoryComprehensiveFocused on chiefcomplaintsRecord reviewDetailedLimited, if at allPhysical examinationDetailed, withdocumentation ofnegative, positiveand non-physiologicfindings; when applicable, compliantwith AMA GuidesstandardsFocused oncomplaints anddiagnosesIssuesMultiple potentialClinical assessment,evaluation andtreatmentReportDetailed, writtenConcise, oftenelectronic recordTestimonyprobabilityHigh (depending onarena)LowThe purpose of an IME is to clarify issues associated witha claim, generally by answering questions submitted by thereferral source. By contrast, a conventional medical report isproduced by the treating physician, with the primary goalsof diagnosis and treatment. The IME is performed by anindependent evaluator who has no clinical relationship withthe examinee, and its purpose is determined by the arenaand specific case requirements. A physician who performsan IME should have no relationship with the examinee apartfrom the evaluation. Specifically, the examiner should nottreat or offer to treat the examinee, have provided treatmentin the past, or do so in the future. Ideally, the examinershould not have a close relationship with any of the examinee’s health care providers.The treating physician has a patient advocate role (asis appropriate) and may have little desire or experience tocomment on claims issues such as causation, apportionment,disability, impairment, and work ability. As the patient’sadvocate, the treating physician may be unable to assessthese issues without bias.8 September/October 201710/19/17 12:17 P M

Independent Medical Evaluation Best Practices, continuedIn an IME there is usually only one opportunity for ahistory and physical examination. Therefore, the IME needsto include a complete and objective description of the examinee’s condition at that time, in the context of prior health,physical and vocational capabilities, and social functioning.In contrast, the treating physician’s opinions are typicallybased on multiple, shorter encounters over time.The history in an IME is more comprehensive than theconventional history obtained by a treating or consultingphysician. It usually includes a detailed history of the mechanism of injury or contributors to an illness, such as typeand extent of occupational exposure, types and results ofevaluation and treatment rendered since, plus past medical,occupational, and psychosocial histories. The examiner alsoreviews health care and perhaps administrative records andis usually provided a more complete set of these recordsthan is available to the treating physician. Treating physicians may not have access to any prior medical records andare therefore dependent on the historical information provided by the patient, which frequently contains inaccuracies.The IME physical examination is a one-time examination. The purpose is to objectively document the examinee’sclinical status, confirm the diagnosis, and evaluate theindividual’s functional status, including documentation ofpositive, negative, and nonphysiologic findings. According toaccepted protocols, specific measurements may be used toprovide the basis for impairment ratings. If the jurisdictionuses the AMA Guides, these measurements must complywith the standards provided in the applicable edition and section. By contrast, the purpose of a physical examination by atreating or consulting physician is to diagnosis, treat, and/ordocument the clinical course over time.There are often several, sometimes multiple, issues to beaddressed in an IME; whereas the evaluation by a treatingor consulting physician usually ends with diagnoses andtreatment recommendations. The IME report often answersspecific questions posed by the referring source.Referring sources for IMEs include insurers, employers,attorneys, and others involved in case management. Sincethe individuals who read these reports are usually not inthe medical field, the language must be understandable to alay reader. This means the examiner should avoid or defineeponyms and abbreviations. IME reports must be well organized, clear, and precisely written.Depending on the arena and jurisdiction, IME physicianswill likely need to defend their opinions in deposition ortestimony.Examiners must understand concepts and terminologythat are encountered with IMEs but typically not in clinicalcare.9 Section 2.5, Concepts Important to the IndependentMedical Examiner (6th ed, 25–27), provides useful insights,including legal vs medical possibility and probability,causation and apportionment analysis, maximum medicalimprovement, permanency, and cultural differences. TheIME report must include specific terminology that is appropriate for the applicable jurisdiction.10 For example, whilethe AMA Guides refers to maximum medical improvement,synonymous phrases including “fixed and stable,” “maximum cure,” “medically stable,” “permanent and stationary,”and “stable and ratable” are used in various jurisdictions.In summary, IMEs and the reports thereof are distinct fromconventional medical evaluations and records in how theyare requested, performed, reported, and used.No or Limited Physician–Patient RelationshipWith a physician–patient relationship, the physician islegally obligated to act in the best interests of his or herpatient and is held to a standard of medical care definedby the accepted standards of practice. In such a fiduciaryrelationship, mutual trust and confidence are essential. Inmost jurisdictions, performance of an IME does not resultin a physician–patient relationship. However, in some statesthere are assertions that a limited relationship exists, andthere is a duty to avoid harm.11 In the evaluator–examineerelationship, challenging and controversial issues may arise,including the duty of care, disclosure of important medical findings, and the right of the examinee to access thereport.12, 13, 14The AMA Principles of Medical Ethics states inSection 1.2.6, Work-Related and Independent MedicalExaminations, that 15Physicians who are employed by businesses or insurance companies, or who provide medical examinationswithin their realm of specialty as independent contractors, to assess individuals’ health or disability facea conflict of duties. They have responsibilities both tothe patient and to the employer or third party. Suchindustry-employed physicians or independent medicalexaminers establish limited patient-physician relationships. Their relationships with patients are confined tothe isolated examination; they do not monitor patients’health over time, treat them, or carry out many otherduties fulfilled by physicians in the traditional fiduciary role.In keeping with their core obligations as medicalprofessionals, physicians who practice as industryemployed physicians or independent medical examinersshould:(a) Disclose the nature of the relationship with theemployer or third party and that the physician is actingas an agent of the employer or third party before gathering health information from the patient.(b) Explain that the physician’s role in this context is toassess the patient’s health or disability independentlyand objectively. The physician should further explainthe differences between this practice and the traditionalfiduciary role of a physician.September/October 2017001 S ept Oct G UIDE S 2017 o1 4C .indd 5 AMA Guides Newsletter510/19/17 12:17 P M

Independent Medical Evaluation Best Practices, continued(c) Protect patients’ personal health information inkeeping with professional standards of confidentiality.(d) Inform the patient about important incidental findings the physician discovers during the examination.When appropriate, the physician should suggest thepatient seek care from a qualified physician.Examiner QualificationsRequired qualifications for an IME provider vary by arena,jurisdiction, and issues. A summary is provided in Figure 2.FIGURE 2. Examiner Qualifications Professional licensure: full and unrestricted Physicians board-certified by a specialty boardrecognized by the American Board of MedicalSpecialties Special credentials in performing IMEs and, asapplicable, impairment rating Report-writing skills Deposition and testimony skills No adverse history of events that wouldcompromise the ability to perform an IMEAbbreviation: IME, independent medical evaluation.The requirements to perform an impairment rating maydiffer from requirements to perform an IME that focuses onother issues.The Sixth Edition states, in Section 2.3a, Who PerformsImpairment Ratings?, thatImpairment evaluation requires medical knowledge;therefore, mostly doctors who are qualified in allopathicor osteopathic medicine or chiropractic medicine usethe Guides to evaluate permanent impairment. For thepurpose of determining impairment, the appropriatehealth regulatory agency in a given jurisdiction is thebest-suited authority to determine the definition of doctor in regard to who uses the Guides to rate impairmentin that jurisdiction. (6th ed, 24)2-1, Fundamental Principles of the Guides, explains inthatRule 6. Impairment evaluation requires medical knowledge. Physicians duly recognized by an appropriatejurisdiction should perform such assessments withintheir applicable scope of practice and field of expertise.Rule 8. The evaluating physician must use knowledge,skill, and ability generally accepted by the medicalscientific community when evaluating an individual, toarrive at the correct impairment rating according to theGuides. (6th ed, 20)6AMA Guides Newsletter001 S ept Oct G UIDE S 2017 o1 4C .indd 6The Fifth Edition specifies in Section 2.2, Who PerformsImpairment Evaluation, that impairment evaluations areperformed by a licensed physician thatA state may restrict the type of practitioner allowed toperform an impairment evaluation, and some requireadditional state certification and other criteria, suchas a minimum number of hours of practice, before thephysician is approved as an impairment evaluator. (5thed, 18)Several factors need to be considered in determiningwho is the most appropriate person to perform an IME. Theweight given to these factors is also dependent on the case.For example, if the issue is whether a patient should have aspecific surgical procedure, it would be appropriate to havethe person examined by a physician who has significantclinical experience in treating that condition. If the issue isa complex impairment rating, it would be most appropriateto involve someone who is highly skilled in use of the AMAGuides.Professional LicensureIf the examination is medical in nature, it should be performed by an allopathic or osteopathic physician with afull and unrestricted license to practice medicine. Thereshould be no current adverse actions that would impedeon professional licensure status, eg, probation, monitoring,restrictions, and/or sanctions. Depending on the arena andjurisdiction, licensure in the state where the examinee isseen and/or the principal jurisdiction of the case may berequired.In some cases, other practitioners such as a psychologist,chiropractor, or dentist may produce a report and examination. However, if the examiner is not a medical doctor or adoctor of osteopathy, the report should be clearly labeledwith this information (eg, “independent psychologicalexamination,” “independent chiropractic examination,”“independent dental examination”). Less commonly, otherhealth care providers such as podiatrists, naturopaths, orphysical therapists and sometimes other professionals, eg,life care planners and vocational rehabilitation specialists,are asked to perform an independent evaluation.Professional Qualifications and CertificationIME physicians should have qualifications in both of thefollowing: Medical knowledge and/or training in the specificarea or areas pertinent to the subject case and Experience, training, and additional credentials inperforming independent medical examination per se.Experience and qualifications in only 1 of these 2 areasare insufficient for producing a quality report.Physicians must perform assessments within theirapplicable scope of practice and field of expertise. The September/October 201710/19/17 12:17 P M

Independent Medical Evaluation Best Practices, continuedscope may be narrow, eg, a complex visual problem wouldbe most appropriately evaluated by an ophthalmologist.However, if the clinical problem is a musculoskeletal injury,the physician might be an orthopedic surgeon, physiatrist,neurologist, occupational medicine physician, pain medicinephysician, or other practitioner with experience and training in the evaluation and management of musculoskeletalinjuries. It is usually not necessary that the examiner be ofthe same specialty as the treating physician for the problemprincipally addressed in the IME if the examiner possessesskill, experience, and knowledge in the appropriate medical area. The examiner should consider if the case is outof his or her area of expertise before agreeing to do theexamination.Medical evaluators should be board certified in one ofthe boards associated with the American Board of MedicalSpecialties or a board recognized as equivalent in a specificjurisdiction.Clinical skills are important but not the only skillsneeded to perform a high-quality IME. Examiners mustalso demonstrate the ability to perform a quality IME. IMEskills are acquired by training and experience. Examinerscan obtain a special credential issued by a nationallyrecognized IME association, eg, the American Boardof Independent Medical Examiners or the InternationalAssociation of Independent Medical Evaluators. If thephysician is performing impairment assessments, it is bestto be able to demonstrate competency in the use of the AMAGuides. Training and certification programs, both live andWeb-based, are listed in Figure 3, and recommended readings are listed at the end of this article.FIGURE 3. Independent Medical Evaluation Training andCertificationPhysicians who perform IMEs should considerparticipating in IME training activities and/orobtaining certification offered by: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons( American Board of Independent MedicalExaminers ( International Academy of Independent MedicalEvaluators ( on practical aspects of performing IMEsis also provided by: SEAK ( about Web-based training onperforming IMEs is available at www.imetools.comand impairment at IME, independent medical evaluation.IME physicians may not necessarily need to be involvedin active clinical care; however, this requirement varies byarena and jurisdiction. If the issues are primarily guidanceon clinical care, the physician must have strong clinicalskills and be familiar with current evidence-based medicine.Special credentials are desirable but not necessary for anindividual who performs IMEs.Following is a list of potential examiners in order of whatmay be most desirable to least desirable:1.Specialist or generalist with expertise and familiarity with the most current medical evidence inthe medical area in question; demonstration ofprevious experience in producing excellent reports;and a special credential;2.Specialist or generalist with medical expertise inthe medical area in question; demonstration ofprevious experience in producing excellent reports;and training and education in performing IMEs;3.Specialist in area of problem (“same specialty”); nospecial credential; and4.Generalist or not “same specialist” with relevantmedical knowledge of the area in question; nospecial credential.Those in the first category would appear to be morelikely to produce a high-quality IME report. However, nostudies have been performed that demonstrate that a physician with a special credential produces a higher-qualityreport than another physician experienced in performingIMES who does not have that credential.Report Writing SkillsSpecific skills in IME report writing are also required,including principles and style. Because the report will beread by many and become part of a permanent record, itmust be clearly written, logical, understandable, and organized. A well-written report should reflect the quality of theevaluation.Testimony SkillsIf required, the skilled evaluator must be able to supportwritten opinions and conclusions in deposition or testimony,which may be required as the case progresses. The expertshould have a general understanding of the legal system,including the nature of discovery and discovery depositions, and be skilled as an expert witness, eg, being truthfuland responding directly (and typically briefly) to questionsasked.Federal rules of evidence require the expert witnessto list all publications authored in the previous 10 years,all other cases during the previous 4 years in which thewitness testified as an expert at trial or by deposition, and aSeptember/October 2017001 S ept Oct G UIDE S 2017 o1 4C .indd 7 AMA Guides Newsletter710/19/17 12:17 P M

Independent Medical Evaluation Best Practices, continuedstatement of the compensation to be paid for the study andtestimony in the case.16Standards of ConductIn addition to the qualifications listed above, it is imperativethat the examiner demonstrate the highest possible standards of ethics, objectivity, and impartiality. Personal bias,prejudice, slanting, or partiality are not tolerated. Indicationsof bias may disqualify the evaluator.Additional RequirementsThe IME physician should not have any contractual relationships with the stakeholders that would reflect conflict ofinterest and/or interfere with the ability to be independentand unbiased.Clients who request an evaluation, whether as the directreferral source or an independent medical evaluation company or broker, may also require the following from thepotential independent examiner: Malpractice claims history, which includes areview of any past significant malpractice claims,particularly any substantiated claims that involvedcriminal fraud, sexual misconduct, or grossnegligence. These, if present, generally are notacceptable. Malpractice insurance and/or errors and omissionsinsurance. Disclosure of whether the physician has beenconvicted of or plead guilty to any violation of anylaws relating to the use, manufacturing, distribution, or dispensing of controlled substances or has apersonal history of drug addiction and/or treatmentfor drug or alcohol abuse. Disclosure of convictions or guilty pleas to anycriminal offense, misdemeanor (other than minortraffic violations), or felony. Disclosure of being excluded, suspended, or barredfrom participating in federal or federally assistedprograms, eg, Medicare and Medicaid.In certain cases, clients may perform an expert witnessbackground search, either as a screen or comprehensiveanalysis, to assess testimonial history, challenge history(based on rules of evidence regarding the admissibilityof expert, ie, Daubert and/or Frye standards), and obtainother critical information. These searches are performed bytrained attorneys who use large legal research databases,including semiprivate and proprietary databases. Expertwitnesses must be aware that testimonial history, transcriptsof depositions and testimony, challenge history, disciplinaryactions, and other extensive data are permanent and accessible online.8AMA Guides Newsletter001 S ept Oct G UIDE S 2017 o1 4C .indd 8Evaluation MethodologyIt is the responsibility of the client who requests the IMEto define the scope of the report, ie, the specific issues to beaddressed. The examiner must define an evaluation processthat will result in a quality report that addresses these issues.The process varies depending on the setting, eg, it is different if a physician sees an examinee directly upon referralfrom the client vs sees the person while working with anIME company or broker who serves as an interface betweenthe physician and the ultimate client.Simply, the process is “data in” and “data out.” Data inis information specific to the case (obtained from history,medical records, other documents, physical examination,and diagnostic studies) and information used to assess thatdata (evidence-based medicine, other current science, applicable guidelines). Depending on the arena, jurisdiction, andscope, different data may be required. The data must becorrectly analyzed. Data out is the report. It is essential thataccurate and appropriate data are used since the quality ofthe output (the report) is determined by the quality of theinput. The computer science and mathematics concept of“GIGO” (garbage in, garbage out) is equally applicable toperforming IMEs; flawed or nonsense input data providesnonsensical output. The evaluator must know what datato obtain, how to obtain and analyze the data, and how toproduce the report. Successful examiners use best practiceapproaches that enhance the quality and efficiency of theirwork.PreevaluationRequestThe request for services usually is in the form of a cover letter, but requests also can be made via phone, form, or online.It is imperative that the referral specify the requirementsrelevant to the individual case, including case information(name, date of injury, and context) and specific questionsand issues. If this information is not available, the examinershould contact the referring source prior to proceeding withthe evaluation.Appointment and NotificationUpon receiving a request, an appointment is made. Theexaminer needs to schedule appropriate time for theevaluation, including adequate time to complete neededquestionnaires and inventories and conduct the interviewand physical examination. The evaluation should be in anappropriate setting (professional office). Since the examineemust be notified, typically IMEs are not scheduled soonerthan 2 to 3 weeks in advance of the evaluation. However,with some examiners, scheduling an appointment may takemonths. The client (requesting source or agency), whetherit is a direct referral or via an IME company, is responsible for the appointment notification, which is sent eitherdirectly to the examinee or to his/her attorney. September/October 201710/19/17 12:17 P M

Independent Medical Evaluation Best Practices, continuedRecords and DocumentsThe client should provide the records and documents atleast 2 weeks in advance of the evaluation. It is importantto review records before performing an evaluation. AMAGuides Section 2.7a, Clinical Evaluation (6th ed, 28),explains that reviewing the records before performing anevaluation ena

in the AMA Guides Newsletter.2, 3, 4 The tangible result of an IME is the report. An IME report may contain more elements than an impairment evaluation, as explained in the Sixth Edition, Section 2.7, Preparing Reports (6th ed, 28-29) and the Fifth Edition, Section 2.6, Prep