6 tips on how to talk with your authorized treating physician
after a work-related injury
In a workers’ compensation claim, the injured worker is entitled to 3 benefits: indemnity benefits, medical treatment for the injured body part, and a permanent partial disability rating. Both the indemnity benefit and the permanent partial impairment rating are determined by the authorized treating physician.
For this reason, it is imperative for injured workers to not only seek appropriate medical treatment, but also know how to talk to their treating medical providers. The treating medical provider is the gatekeeper in your workers’ compensation case. Not only do they treat the injured worker, but they also determine what work restrictions should apply.
Tip #1: Describe your work injuries clearly and precisely
The most overarching and most crucial point to remember is to state your symptoms clearly and precisely, while only including those symptoms from the work accident.
Many times, when an injured worker first treats with a doctor, they are asked to complete forms. Take your time when filling out these documents. Not only do they serve the purpose of assisting the doctor when they treat you, but also can be very valuable later on in a claim. They serve to capture the injured workers’ complaints of pain at a moment in time, which is crucial.
Any areas of your body that are hurting from the work accident (even slightly hurting) should be reported to the doctor. It is always better to report too many body parts injured than try to add additional injuries later. If a symptom is initially reported, it can be used as evidence that the specific body part was hurting and was either not properly treated, or not treated at all.
Tip #2: Avoid adding a nonwork-related injury to your claim
However, keeping this in mind, do not include any other issues that will “muddy the waters” of the work injury and potentially lead to the insurance company denying your claim.
If an injury is not related to you on-the-job injury, then don’t try and add that injury to the worker’s compensation claim. First of all, it is fraud to try and obtain treatment for a non work-related injury through workers’ compensation insurance. And secondly, it could prevent you from receiving medical treatment for a legitimate occupational injury.
Tip #3: Avoid self-treating your injury
Do not try and take your treatment into your own hands. We have encountered a few occasions where the injured worker believes that people have to “see” their injury. They believe that an “injury should look a certain way.”
An example of this is when someone has a neck injury. Without an order from a doctor, they proceed to start wearing a neck brace around. This is not necessary. Likely, they have seen this on television and believe this is the protocol for a neck injury. In certain circumstances, it is. However, if the doctor does not prescribe it, the injured worker does not have to wear one.
Tip #4: Be open and honest about your symptoms
After the initial visit, and at each subsequent visit to the doctor, it is prudent to always be honest with the doctor about how you are feeling. The injured worker doesn’t have to embellish how they are feeling to get sympathy from the doctor. Exaggerating your injuries and pain can hurt much more than it can ever help.
Any credible doctor will be able to judge the severity of an injured workers’ symptoms by both objective measures (test results, physical exams, etc.) and subjective means (what the patient says). One of the worst scenarios that can happen is if the objective measures do not back up the subjective means.
To avoid this situation, it’s imperative that honest information is relayed to the doctor from the beginning. However, this doesn’t mean that you give the doctor a momentary snapshot of how you are feeling.
The phrase, “See the forest for the trees,” is the best way to look at a work-related injury.
Instead of showing the doctor a slight glimpse of how you are feeling at that very moment, give the doctor an aggregate of how you have been feeling the week or two leading up to the appointment. That will give the doctor a clearer picture and will take into account the variations of pain you may be experiencing.
Tip #5: Talk to your lawyer about your doctor’s appointment
We also recommended talking to your workers’ compensation attorney prior to any doctor’s appointment. They may know the personality of the treating doctor and can help you present your injury in a way that will be beneficial to both you and the doctor.
If you believe that the doctor is not listening to you, or that the physician’s assistant is not relaying proper information to the doctor, then you should also contact your attorney. There are a few avenues available to the injured worker if this scenario occurs.
The first option is to request a change in authorized treating physicians. An injured worker is allowed a one-time change in authorized treating physician to a panel doctor of their choice. Your attorney can discuss what options are best regarding which doctor will best listen to you.
Secondly, if the injured worker is receiving indemnity benefits, then they are entitled to an independent medical examination of a doctor of their choosing. This can help the injured worker in getting to a doctor that will adequately address their complaints of pain. In fact, there is a process where the injured worker’s attorney can petition the administrative law judge in the claim to change doctors to the independent medical examination doctor.
Tip #6: Follow your doctor’s orders (and tell them so)
The final tip in talking to a doctor after a work injury is to make sure to relay to the doctor that you have complied with his or her orders. If compliance hasn’t occurred, be sure to explain to the doctor why you were unable to follow their orders.
This goes back to the first point: honesty. At no point in a workers’ compensation do you want your honesty to come into question. Doctors need to know if their orders are not being followed with so they can adjust their treatment accordingly.