Most IMEs answer straight-forward questions on known issues. But there are those rare but important moments where we are reminded that things are not always as they seem, and that an examination can have extraordinary and unexpected value and impact on peoples’ lives. Allow me to share such a story.
Recently MCN conducted an IME on a 46-year-old woman who had back pain complaints in a workers’ compensation claim. The physicians who evaluated her found her to not be fixed and stable, and elected to order an MRI of the spine. It should be noted that the doctors felt that the findings they observed did not wholly fit with the injury claim but that they were significant. Typically an MRI would not be ordered for a low back pain complaint.
Five days after the evaluation she underwent the study. That same day MCN received a call from the radiologist who reviewed the film, calling our attention to unexpected findings of a mixed signal intensity mass involving the lower pole of the right kidney, approximately 4.5 by 4.4 centimeter. He noted that this may represent a renal cyst, but that a renal cell neoplasm could not be ruled out.
We informed the examining doctors who saw the claimant about these findings as well as the claims manager. As Medical Director, my priority at MCN changed in part from processing a report for her claim to doing right clinically by the claimant and ensuring that she was aware of these findings. I called her and told her that we had found something unexpected and explained to her the importance of prompt follow-up, and forwarded her the radiology report along with this email:
It was nice speaking to you this evening. As I mentioned, I am the Medical Director of MCN where you were seen for an IME on November 9, 2013 for your workplace injury. The report is in draft form at this point in time and when completed, will be sent to the department. I do note that the doctors who evaluated you did not regard you as fixed and stable and that you warrant either further treatment or evaluation.
As part of your evaluation, you underwent an MRI on November 14, 2013. The report is attached to this email.
As you can see, the radiologist reading this study noted an unusual mass that caused them to call our office, and it thus came to my attention. We will be letting the examining doctors know about this as well.
While I do not wish to alarm you, it is most important that you seek evaluation for this finding. It is possible that some of the symptoms you experience may be related to this rather than the injury. Regardless, it should be assessed to determine if it is of significance and warrants treatment.
I would recommend that you present these findings to your personal physician and work with them to investigate and follow up as appropriate.
I would appreciate any follow-up that you wish to offer and hope that the findings turn out to be insignificant and that you recover nicely from your injury.
Please let me know if you have any questions or if we can be of further assistance.
Thank you for your attention.
Brian L. Grant, MD
One week later I was surprised and touched by the following text:
Hi, this is (name withheld). I found out yesterday at the mass on my kidney is cancer. Will know more on Monday. Seeing oncologists and urologist. Thank you and please please please thank the two wonderful doctors that ordered the MRI and for taking my complaints seriously. Bless you all.
Several weeks later she underwent a partial nephrectomy at a large University medical center in the region. The subsequent weeks were rocky emotionally for her but in the end she was relieved to learn that she had a clear cell renal carcinoma and that the surgery was able to completely remove the tumor with all margins clear for carcinoma.
And by the way, her claim was also processed with an impairment rating relative to the back findings, and a settlement from the carrier.
My point in sharing this is that the work we do has impact, sometimes in ways we would never anticipate. In this case we identified a tumor causing back symptoms and took the necessary steps to help this patient get the right care in a timeframe that perhaps contributed to a great outcome. I am proud of all involved in this case and we all wish the claimant the best outcome.
Brian L. Grant, MD