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How to Predesignate Your Workers’ Comp Doctor in California

Written by
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Victoria Muñoz
Lead Attorney
Published June 26, 2024
4 min read
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In California, you have the right to see the doctor of your choice after a workers’ comp incident — provided you’ve taken some steps beforehand. Specifically, you need to go through the state’s required process to predesignate your doctor for workers’ compensation claims.

Fortunately, this process isn’t overly complicated. But there are a few rules you need to follow and whether predesignating a doctor is even an option for you.

Who can predesignate a workers’ comp doctor?

To have the right to predesignate your doctor, you need to have health insurance coverage either through your employer or through a plan you bought yourself. Beyond that, your eligibility to predesignate hinges on your doctor in three ways:

  1. Their agreement: The doctor needs to be willing to treat you for work-related injuries and illnesses. To document their agreement, you can have them or a member of their team sign the predesignation form (more on that below) or provide similar documentation, like a signed letter. It must include proof of their willingness to treat you for work-related incidents.

  2. Their history with you: You can choose your primary care physician or a doctor who has seen you in the past and has your medical records on file.

  3. Their licensure. They need to be a doctor of medicine (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO) who is a general practitioner, internist, pediatrician, obstetrician-gynecologist, or family practitioner. You can also designate a medical group of licensed MDs and ODs who offer primary and specialty care and mostly treat medical conditions that are unrelated to work.

Should you predesignate your doctor?

It’s probably a good idea. If you don’t, your employer can present you with a limited number of doctor options, or even force you to see a doctor picked by your workers’ comp claims administrator. The way this works depends on the doctor network your employer has set up.

If your employer doesn’t have an HCO (healthcare organization) or MPN (medical provider network) and the claims administrator chooses your doctor, you’re limited to switching your doctor just one time in the first 30 days. That can pose a serious issue if you don’t agree with either doctor’s evaluation of your condition. You almost always get your diagnosis during those first 30 days, along with your treatment plan and the doctor’s recommendations for how much you can work. That first month is critical for your treatment and you want to have a doctor you trust in your corner.

You can get a second opinion in the form of a qualified medical evaluator (QME) or an agreed medical evaluator (AME) if you don’t agree with the employer-provided doctor. But this means more paperwork and extra hoops to jump through. You can learn more about changing and choosing workers comp doctors here.

Assuming your primary care doctor is willing, it’s smart to predesignate them to treat you for workplace illnesses and injuries.

How to predesignate your workers' comp doctor

The process to predesignate your workers’ comp doctor depends on whether or not your employer has a healthcare organization (HCO). An HCO is an organization that’s certified by the state to provide medical care for injured workers.

Most employers don’t have an HCO, so we’ll go over what happens in that situation first.

If your employer doesn’t contract with an HCO

In the absence of an HCO, you have to notify your employer in writing that you want to predesignate your doctor. The simplest option is to use the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) form for predesignation: DWC Form 9783.

You can write your own statement instead, but make sure you cover all the necessary information. In particular, you need your doctor to state their willingness to treat you for work-related conditions.

If you want to use your own written statement, make sure it includes:

  • The date

  • Your name

  • Your employer’s name

  • A statement that you’re predesignating this doctor to treat you for work-related injuries and illnesses

  • Your signature

  • Your doctor’s name, business address, and phone number

  • A statement that your doctor is willing to treat you for work-related injuries and illnesses

  • The doctor’s signature on that statement

Submit all of this to your employer. They should acknowledge that you’ve predesignated your doctor.

What if your employer has an HCO?

If your employer has an HCO, the process is slightly different. With this option, you should receive DWC Form 1194 on an annual basis from your employer. This form gives you the option to enroll in their HCO or predesignate your own doctor. To predesignate, you need to check the box saying you want your doctor to treat you. Also fill in the doctor’s name, address, and phone number.

Predesignating a chiropractor

You’ll need to see a doctor (an MD or DO) first after a work injury, but if you’ve predesignated a chiropractor, you can switch to them after your first doctor’s appointment.

The process to predesignate a chiropractor is similar to the one for a doctor, except that you use a different form: DWC Form 9783.1.

Be advised that there’s a limit to how many times you can see your chiropractor for a work injury. California law says that you can only see a chiropractor as your treating physician up to 24 times. After 24 visits, if you need more medical treatment, you’ll have to choose a different non-chiropractor doctor.

Predesignating an acupuncturist

Similarly, you can predesignate an acupuncturist and switch to them after first seeing a doctor picked by your claims administrator. Use DWC Form 9783.1 to make this predesignation. You also only get a maximum of 24 visits. If you need more medical treatment after 24 visits, you’ll have to choose a different doctor who isn’t an acupuncturist.

When can you change your workers’ comp doctor?

You can usually change your doctor after one visit, but the exact rules depend on whether your employer has an MPN, HCO, or neither. To see how that applies at your workplace, check out our guide to choosing a workers’ comp doctor.

Where to get help after a work injury

Whether you’ve predesignated your doctor or not, getting the care and benefits you need after a workplace injury often isn’t easy. To get what’s fair, your best course of action is to hire a workers’ comp lawyer. This isn’t the same as suing your employer. A lawyer is trained in California’s workers’ comp laws and will help you navigate the system so that you’re getting the full payment and medical benefits you’re entitled to.

With an Atticus lawyer, you also don’t have to pay anything upfront: You’ll get a free consultation and if you decide to work with us, you don’t pay your lawyer’s fee until after you win benefits or get a settlement.

If you’re interested in learning more, fill out our quick workers’ comp quiz and our team will reach out to learn more about your situation and answer any questions you have.

Get workers' comp help today.

Frequently asked questions about workers’ comp doctors

Can workers' comp force me to see their doctor?

If you haven’t predesignated your doctor, your employer can control which workers’ compensation doctor you see. Depending on the network of doctors their insurance has, they could present you with options that you choose from or make you see a specific doctor.

Can I see my regular doctor after a work injury?

California allows you to predesignate a doctor of medicine (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO) who has treated you in the past and has your medical records. That could include your primary care physician (PCP), a general practitioner, an internist, a pediatrician, or an obstetrician-gynecologist. You can also designate a medical group of licensed MDs and ODs.

Can I see my chiropractor after a work injury?

If you predesignated a chiropractor then you can switch to them for treatment after one visit with a workers’ comp doctor. It is possible to designate a regular doctor and a chiropractor.

Can I see my acupuncturist after a work injury?

Yes, if you predesignated an acupuncturist. You can switch to them for treatment after one visit with a workers’ comp doctor. It’s possible to designate a regular doctor and an acupuncturist.

Can I change my workers’ comp doctor?

You can usually change your doctor at least once but if your employer has an HCO or MPN set up, you have to see a doctor within that network. Learn more here.

What if I disagree with my workers’ comp doctor?

The best path is to hire a good workers’ comp lawyer. They’ll effectively be able to choose a doctor for you. If you don’t have a lawyer, you’ll need to file some forms and likely wait a few weeks before you can choose a new doctor. Read more about switching doctors here.

Related resources:

California Workers' Comp: Everything You Need to Know

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By Victoria Muñoz

Your Guide to California Workers’ Comp Settlements

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By Victoria Muñoz

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A drawing of the lead workers' compensation lawyer for Atticus.

Victoria Muñoz

Lead Attorney

Victoria Muñoz is an attorney on Atticus’s Workers' Compensation team. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of Stanford Law School, and has counseled hundreds of people seeking workers' compensation. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and spending time with her pup.
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