Workers' Compensation

What is symptom magnification?

Literally, it is the reporting of symptoms that are greater than would be expected. But that is a very unsatisfying definition. In the context of a workers’ compensation claim it’s just about the worse thing to be stated short of calling someone an outright fraud. The problem with labeling someone with such a drastic term is that in medical literature it is clear that the tendency to overstate symptoms may be unconscious or conscious. Yet in every day usage it has come to mean intentional lying.

A case comes to mind involving a woman with shoulder injury. She was seen by an Occupational Medicine doctor who we have come to view as being rather callous and indifferent to workers’ compensation claimants. When our client did not respond to treatment, this doctor labeled her as symptom magnifying and discharged her as a patient. Subsequently, an MRI revealed a torn rotator cuff. So, while the patient’s complaints were greater than what the doctor expected, the error lay with the doctor’s indifference and decision not to order an MRI which would have supported the patient. This is not at all an isolated instance. We reviewed medical records where an orthopedic surgeon vilified an injured worker after a back surgery. The worker was complaining of symptoms greater than what the doctor expected. That was undoubtedly because a neurosurgeon evaluated what the orthopedist had done and discovered that the first surgeon had operated on the wrong level in the back.

What’s our point in telling horror stories? It’s what we’ve observed “the other side” doing about injured workers. Just because there have been a couple of people, among the tens of thousands of injured workers, who exaggerated their symptoms doesn’t mean every workers’ compensation claimant is lying about their condition. Yet some health care professionals who work closely with the insurance adjusters seem to take a “guilty until proven innocent” view. It’s simply not fair if they pre-judge you before they’ve even done a physical examination.

What can you do about this? We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: avoid dramatic overstatements of pain. They never do you any good and can often cause a lot of unintended problems.

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