Understanding Maximum Medical Improvement as applied to Injured Workers
Why does workers compensation have to be so confusing? Injured workers hear terms like “maximum medical improvement” or “MMI” and often have no idea what this really means in terms of their benefits, ability to return to work, or access to ongoing medical treatment. In a Florida workers compensation case, an injured worker receives medical treatment from the doctor chosen by the insurance company until that doctor decides the worker has received all the medical care needed to improve from the work injury. If the injured worker is completely healed at that point, there is no real issue with the worker going back to work full duty. But, many times, the injured worker continues to experience ongoing medical problems and limitations when this insurance company chosen doctor says “MMI” has been reached. So, what does “MMI”really mean in these situations?
First, being placed at “MMI” by the doctor does not necessarily mean your medical treatment comes to an end. Florida law provides injured workers with a right to medical care as long as the work injury remains the major cause of the need for treatment. However, if you have truly reached “MMI”, this would mean the medical treatment you receive is no longer expected to make your conditions significantly better or improve your ability to function. Treatment following “MMI” will be considered palliative (i.e. maintenance care) in nature. In other words, rather than trying to bring about some additional permanent improvement in the condition, it is recognized that the injured worker has plateaued with getting better, and unfortunately, the work injury has caused a permanent problem of some sort. The doctor is essentially saying, “You have recovered as well as can be expected.”
Medical care for the work injury is then directed at helping the injured worker control pain or other permanent symptoms associated with the work injury and maintain the current level of functioning and overall quality of life. Doctors will also need to address what physical limitations are reasonable at this point as well as address permanent impairment ratings so the injured worker can make decisions about safely returning to work. (For more detailed information about permanent impairment ratings, see the discussion located here.
Usually, palliative type medical treatment is provided by pain management doctors, but may also be received from a neurologist, family doctor, or any other doctor comfortable with managing symptoms over the long term. If you are an injured worker that has been told you are at “MMI”, but are still experiencing problems with injuries you feel have not been properly addressed by your insurance company chosen doctor, there may be an opportunity to get another medical opinion. Injured workers deserve a fair assessment of their injury and an opportunity to received treatment that will help them heal as much as possible. FWA attorneys in your area have the knowledge and experience to help clients find a doctor that is not biased in favor of the insurance company. This is crucial to helping you get back to work so you can keep your job and continue to support yourself and your family. If you need more information about whether you are really at “MMI” and what this means to you, call an FWA attorney in your area.
Kimberly J. Syfrett (Kim) is a managing partner of Syfrett, Dykes & Furr in Panama City. She is an FWA Board Member and Officer. Kim limits her practice of law to helping Florida’s injured workers and veterans.