Combining Values
Christopher R. Brigham
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To account for the effects of multiple impairments, evaluating physicians must provide a summary value that combines multiple impairments so the whole person impairment is equal to or less than the sum of all the individual impairment values. A common error is to add values that should be combined and typically results in an inflated rating. The Combined Values Chart in the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, Fifth Edition, includes instructions that guide physicians about combining impairment ratings. For example, impairment values within a region generally are combined and converted to a whole person permanent impairment before combination with the results from other regions (exceptions include certain impairments of the spine and extremities). When they combine three or more values, physicians should select and combine the two lowest values; this value is combined with the third value to yield the total value. Upper extremity impairment ratings are combined based on the principle that a second and each succeeding impairment applies not to the whole unit (eg, whole finger) but only to the part that remains (eg, proximal phalanx). Physicians who combine lower extremity impairments usually use only one evaluation method, but, if more than one method is used, the physician should use the Combined Values Chart.

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