Sub Rosas in Workers’ Comp

This article is for medical providers, insurance adjusters, and attorneys who want to better understand the process of a Sub Rosa within the context of a workers’ compensation case.

What is a Sub Rosa?

Sub Rosa is a fancy latin term that literally means “Under the Rose.” In workers’ compensation, however, it means secret investigation—surveillance. During a Sub Rosa investigation, usually an investigator is sent out to survey the injured worker. The investigator attempts to observe what level of physical activity the injured worker can or cannot perform. The second, and less common use of Sub Rosa in work comp is to investigate a doctor, an employer, work sites, and/or working conditions. 

What are the stakeholders looking for in a Sub Rosa?

When insurance adjusters, employers, or medical providers require a Sub Rosa investigation, they are normally looking evidence that an employee can perform observable physical activities that are in excess of what they claim they can do.

 For instance, an injured worker may report that they can’t lift anything, or can’t bend over, or can’t walk without a cane. The fundamental purpose of this surveillance is to verify or disprove the validity of what the person is claiming in regards to their physical or psychological conditions. 

Sometimes a patient may claim that they have good days and bad days. In these cases, their limitations ambiguous. It’s very important, therefore, that Sub Rosas span several, separate days, to provide an accurate view of the patient’s conditions.

What should the doctor do while viewing surveillance footage of a patient?

Most surveillance tapes are dead-boring. It is advisable for the doctor to dictate what she observes the patient doing while she watches the tape. It’s also important for the doctor to state whether she can clearly identify that the person being filmed is the patient in question, or whether she knows it is certainly not the patient, or whether she can’t tell.

When should an attorney consider requesting a Sub Rosa?

An attorney may consider a Sub Rosa to be useful if one or more of the following are present:

  • Is the patient off from work for a much longer time than is typical for their condition?
  • Does the patient have a history of workers’ comp cases where this has been a trend?
  • Do physical findings corroborate with the patient’s description of their symptoms?

Should a doctor confront the patient with apparent discrepancies before recommending a Sub Rosa?

Yes. There is a lot that can be gained from a frank discussion with the patient about their symptoms and physical findings. Here at RateFast, we are committed to remaining non-partisan—we believe the ultimate goal of a workers’ compensation claim should be to get patients safely back to work. Therefore, we recommend an open and honest discussion with the injured worker before considering surveillance.


Telemedicine is the delivery of medical care, including an actual discussion of medical history and a physical exam.

Just like an office visit, in a telemedicine visit the doctor interviews the patient, gets a complete history, and then performs an exam. Recent advances in technology now allow providers to remotely measure blood pressure, oxygen saturation, cardiac and lung auscultation. They can even look at the tympanic membranes of the inner ear drum or take high resolution pictures of the skin without actually being in the same room as the patient.

When should an injured worker get an attorney?

If you’re a medical provider in workers’ compensation, then sometimes your patients might want legal representation.

When your patients ask, “Should I get an attorney?” then we recommend referring them the Disability Evaluation Unit.

To learn why, listen to our podcast on the subject here: “Attorneys in Workers’ Comp: A Historical Perspective” (released September 3rd, 2015).



The DEU has offices in the following locations:

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Van Nuys, CA 91401-3373
(818) 901-5376 ext. 5

Attorneys in Workers’ Comp: Who they are, what they do, and when to get one

Roles that Defense and Applicant Attorneys play in Workers’ Comp: A historical perspective

Many workers’ compensation claims today involve an attorney at some point. The work comp system, when it came to the United States from Germany, was supposed to be simple, transparent and efficient—a system without attorneys or judges, that focused on three simple steps: 

  1. Medical treatment
  2. Patient recovery
  3. Patient’s return to work

Any permanent impairment would be measured by a doctor with a simple formula, and would tell you how much that injury was worth. 

Permanent disability, on the other hand, was originally used to measure the amount of machines the worker could no longer operate.  The amount of compensation that the injured worker received would then come from that loss.

So, how did work-comp become one of the most complicated areas of law?

Why are defense attorneys involved in today’s workers’ compensation system? There are two primary reasons why attorneys need to get involved: 

This, in turn, results in: 

  • Increased cost of the claim.
  • Increased amount of medical treatment ultimately provided.

And, finally, that an injured worker seeks out an attorney.  This can then further result in additional body parts being added to the claim.  Therefore, providers should always be asking themselves:

“How do I get this case accurately resolved, in the fastest amount of time?” 

When this doesn’t happen, lawyers get involved.

Related Reading

“When should an injured worker get an attorney?”

What is the technical definition of ‘Impairment’?

impair (v.) l, from Old French empeirier, from Latin impeiorare “make worse.” In reference to driving under the influence of alcohol, first recorded 1951 in Canadian English.

Okay…. But what does Impairment mean in the world of Workers’ Compensation?

If you’re a medical professional who examines injured employees, then impairment means “a loss, loss of use, or derangement.” (That’s straight out of the in the AMA Guides 5th Edition, Chapter 1, page 2.)

An injured worker’s impairment is considered permanent when the injury reaches “maximum medical improvement” or “MMI”.

Maximal medical improvement means the patient’s condition is unlikely to change in one year.

The AMA Guides 5th edition refers to impairment as permanent impairment. Permanent impairment requires evaluation of a physician.

Remember, loss, loss of use, or derangement means a change from normal.

So, let’s take this example: imagine a 27-year-old construction worker who has injured her right shoulder. At MMI, you as a doctor, measure the injured shoulder, which flexes to 160°, and then you measure the uninjured shoulder, which comes out to 180°. Does this patient have impairment?

The answer yes, because the employee has lost 20° of use.

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