Become an IME and Diversify Your Income Stream

Spine specialists can moonlight as an independent medical examiner (IME) if their case volume has dropped due to COVID lockdowns.

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When tragedy strikes following something like a car accident or workplace injury, it is sometimes difficult to obtain all the facts about the injury to ensure the right outcome is achieved in a dispute. When that point is reached, many organizations—and sometimes individuals— turn to what are known as independent medical examiners (IMEs) to help provide an unbiased explanation on the cause, extent, and treatment for an injury or condition where liability is in play.

Becoming an IMESpine specialists can make extra money by acting as an independent medical examiner for attorney and insurance clients.

Many spine specialists have seen their case volume drastically after a worldwide lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although spine surgeries are beginning to be rescheduled, you may find yourself with time on your hand and in need of an extra income stream. Becoming an IME may be just what the doctor ordered.

What Is an IME?

An IME is a doctor who serves as a third-party consultant that provides thorough medical examinations. What makes them different from regular doctors is that they are hired strictly to provide an objective medical opinion on the injuries a person or persons has sustained. These doctors are not responsible for the long-term care or health of these persons, nor does doctor-patient confidentiality apply to them in their capacity as an IME.

Choosing the correct IME for the job comes down to the injury or condition that is allegedly the result of the accident in question. For example: If someone suffers an injury to the skin, a dermatological IME would be hired to perform the assessment.

Almost any specialist can be an IME, but many instances where an IME is needed are musculoskeletal and often spine-related. This can include specialties such as:

  • Chiropractic
  • Neurology
  • Orthopedics
  • Pain management
  • Physiatry

However, IMEs may also be (depending on the need):

  • Neuropsychology
  • Psychiatry
  • Psychology

IMEs must be licensed doctors and can become board certified by the American Board of Independent Medical Examiners (ABIME)1, but it is not required for the position.

When Is an IME Called Upon?

An IME is consulted when there is a conflict with the information provided after an individual or organization files a claim following an incident that results in injury. The IME’s job is to ultimately determine whether a person’s medical condition is the result of an occurrence where compensation—monetary or otherwise—may be involved.

This typically includes scenarios such as:

  • Workers’ compensation cases where an employee is injured or sickened while performing their job
  • Liability cases, such as slip-and-fall accidents on someone’s property or food poisoning from an eatery
  • Personal injury claims like those following a motor vehicle accident (MVA) or injury due to a malfunctioning product
  • Disability claims where it must be definitively shown that an individual has endured an injury or illness so severe that that are unable—or are expected to be unable—to work in any capacity for at least a year
  • Occupational hazard claims that include issues like the risk of an accident or the possibility of causing disease in the workplace
  • Nursing home negligence where a loved one is abused and/or neglected while in the care of a long-term care facility

An IME is usually requested by entities such as an insurance carrier, legal counsel—more so on behalf of the defense and less so on the plaintiff—and legal nurse consultants. However, the rules surrounding who can opt for an IME as well as how the evaluation is conducted can be complicated and vary from state to state.

What Kind of Compensation Do IMEs Receive?

The exam fees for IME work can average roughly $1500 per exam (with the potential to be higher). Doctors can choose to do as many exams as often as they please with minimal liability, so there is plenty of earning potential with little consequence. Currently, the national average earnings for an IME are approximately $74,000 a year2. Also, earning potential may increase with experience over time.

How Can I Become an IME?

First, you must be a licensed and board-certified physician. Then it’s simply a matter of getting the word out that you are available for consultations and exams. You can start by getting yourself listed in directories, such as those maintained by SEAK or ABIME.

You can also offer your services to attorneys and others you know. Once you have a few exams under your belt and you’ve proven yourself reliable, word will spread. Similar to practice marketing, word-of-mouth and satisfied patients (clients, in this case) will bring you the best return on your investment of time.

IMEs play a pivotal role in guaranteeing that the most accurate information possible is provided regarding the injury and recommended care an individual should receive. In doing so, it ensures that all parties get what is rightfully deserved.


Updated on: 07/30/20
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