Independent medical examinations: an expanding source of physician liability

Ann Intern Med. 2005 Jun 21;142(12 Pt 1):974-8. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-142-12_part_1-200506210-00007.


Employers frequently ask physicians to conduct medical examinations and review radiology films and other diagnostic tests of employees. Physicians also provide such services at the request of other third parties. These examinations are commonly called independent medical examinations. Increasingly, patients are bringing and prevailing in medical malpractice lawsuits against physicians who conduct independent medical examinations, in part because of physicians' misconceptions of their legal duties in this context. Despite the absence of a traditional physician-patient relationship, physicians who conduct independent medical examinations still owe various legal duties to the examinee patient, although the precise scope of those duties is a source of constant debate and change. Since 2001 alone, 4 state supreme courts have exercised their discretion to hear cases on this issue, bearing witness to its medical, legal, and social significance. Given the current medical malpractice climate, it is imperative that physicians understand the potential liability inherent in conducting independent medical examinations. This article summarizes controlling law, clarifying an otherwise muddied legal picture. It also offers practical suggestions for limiting physician liability in independent medical examinations.

MeSH terms

  • Confidentiality / ethics
  • Humans
  • Iatrogenic Disease / prevention & control
  • Liability, Legal*
  • Physical Examination* / ethics
  • Physician-Patient Relations* / ethics
  • Truth Disclosure / ethics
  • United States