The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has recently ruled that psychological/ psychiatric health records fall within meaning of â€œphysical examinationâ€ under the Pa. Workers\’ Compensation Act and should be provided for review by the employer’s medical expert. Thus, a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) may order a claimant to produce prior psychiatric medical records to enable an employer\’s medical witness to render a competent opinion regarding the claimant\’s psychological health.
This opinion of the Court was issued on October 17, 2006 in the case of Central Dauphin School District v. WCAB. The facts of the case indicate that the claimant, Donna Siler, fell on a floor while she was performing custodial duties for her employer, the Central Dauphin School District. She suffered several injuries and, since she believed that she was unable to return to work, filed a claim petition. The WCJ granted the claim petition and also found Siler\’s symptoms were not purely physical but also had â€œpsychological components.â€ At the request of the employer, Ms. Siler attended an Independent Medical Evaluation (IME) performed by a psychiatrist retained by her employer. During this IME, Ms. Siler advised the doctor that she had previously been treated for psychiatric problems. The examining doctor then advised the employer that it would be impossible for her to give an opinion on Siler\’s condition without reviewing the prior psychiatric medical records. Employer requested that the claimant provide these records. Claimant refused to do so. The employer then filed a petition to compel Ms. Siler to produce these the requested documents.
The WCJ and the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board both denied the employer\’s petition to compel Ms. Siler to release her psychiatric records, concluding that the employer should have requested or secured the records while the claim petition was being litigated and that the WCJ did not have the authority to compel Ms. Siler to release her psychiatric treatment records in the context of a petition to compel a physical examination. Upon appeal, the Pa. Commonwealth Court reversed this decision, holding â€œa WCJ may order the release of [psychiatric medical] records when refused by a claimantâ€. The Court held that the prior psychiatric records fell within the meaning of “physical examination” for purposes of Section 314 of the Pa. Workers’ Compensation Act and were relevant and discoverable. The case was remanded to the WCJ for further proceedings.
Thomas P. Cummings, Esq.