6 tips on how to talk with your authorized treating physician after a work-related injury
When it comes to a work-related injury, receiving prompt and effective medical care is crucial. If you’ve been injured at work, you must seek medical treatment from a panel doctor or with a doctor that the insurance company has agreed to send you to. This will ensure you’ll have no out-of-pocket expenses, regardless of how much the testing or treatment you require costs.
In a workers’ compensation claim, the injured worker is entitled to 3 benefits: indemnity benefits, medical treatment for the injured body part and disability benefits. Both the indemnity benefit and the disability rating are determined by the authorized treating physician.
For this reason, i’s 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.
Below are some tips on how to communicate clearly with your doctor to ensure you receive the care and benefits you’re entitled to under workers’ compensation laws.
Tip #1: Describe your work injuries clearly and precisely
One of the most important things to communicate to your doctor is how the injury occurred. Be as specific as possible and provide any relevant details, such as the time and date of the incident, where it occurred and what activities you were engaged in at the time. This information can help your doctor understand the nature and severity of your injury and may be necessary for legal and insurance purposes.
Any areas of your body that are hurting from the work accident (even slightly hurting) should be reported to the doctor. I’s 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.
If you’ve sustained an injury due to the repetitive nature of your work, be sure to explain exactly what you’ve been doing that you believe has caused your injury. Remember that you’re not just telling the doctor what happened—they’re also entering the information into medical records that can be used at a later date.
Tip #2: Avoid adding a non-work-related injury to your claim
If you have any prior injuries or medical conditions that may be relevant to your current injury, be sure to inform your doctor. This can help your doctor determine the cause and extent of your injury and develop an appropriate treatment plan. For example, if you have a history of lower back pain, this may be relevant if you’re now experiencing pain in the same area after a workplace incident.
Georgia law allows for an aggravation of an already injured body part in the workers’ compensation arena. In other words, if you have a prior back injury and subsequently aggravate that injury, you may be entitled to ongoing treatment for that injury along with receiving other benefits under workers’ compensation law.
However, keeping this in mind, you should 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 your on-the-job injury, then don’t try and add that injury to the worker’s compensation claim. First of all, it’s 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.
Two Atlanta business owners have been sentenced after pleading no contest in a $54 million workers’ compensation Ponzi scheme.
Tip #3: Avoid self-treating your injury
Don’t try to 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 like whiplash. Without an order from a doctor, they proceed to start wearing a neck brace. 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’s prudent to always be honest with the doctor about how you’re feeling. The injured worker doesn’t have to embellish how they’re 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 worker’s 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 you relay honest information to your doctor from the beginning. However, this doesn’t mean that you give the doctor a singular snapshot of how you’re feeling at that exact moment.
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’re feeling at that very moment, give the doctor an aggregate of how you have been feeling for a week or two leading up to the appointment. That will give the doctor a clearer picture and help them take into account the variations of pain you may be experiencing.
When discussing your pain and other symptoms with your doctor, mention the following to ensure they have a thorough understanding of your work injury.
The location and extent of your pain
Be specific about where you’re experiencing pain and how severe it is. For example, you might say that you’re experiencing sharp pain in your lower back or that your wrist is throbbing. This can help your doctor diagnose the injury and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
Do your best to be clinical and calm when describing how much you hurt. Your credibility is very important when it comes to a doctor-patient relationship, and we believe this helps to build that.
Any restrictions or limitations on your ability to work
If your injury is affecting your ability to perform your job duties, be sure to inform your doctor. This can help your doctor determine the appropriate level of work restrictions or limitations and help ensure that your workers’ compensation benefits are appropriate. For example, if you’re a construction worker and have injured your arm, your doctor may need to provide restrictions on lifting or operating heavy machinery.
It’s often necessary to explain to the authorized treating physician what your pre-injury job was. This doesn’t mean just telling the doctor the title of your position—go into depth about what that job physically requires and why you believe your injury will impact what you’re able to do.
Any changes in your condition or symptoms
If your condition or symptoms change over time, be sure to inform your doctor. This can help ensure that you receive appropriate medical treatment and that your workers’ compensation benefits are adjusted accordingly. For example, if you initially reported pain in your lower back but are now experiencing numbness in your leg, this may indicate a more serious injury that requires additional medical treatment or diagnostic tests.
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 an 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, they are entitled to an independent medical examination of a doctor of their choosing. This can help the injured worker get to a doctor that will adequately address their complaints of pain. In fact, there’s 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 their 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 claim do you want your honesty to come into question. Doctors need to know if their orders are not being followed so they can adjust their treatment accordingly.
Communicate openly and honestly with your doctor about any concerns or questions you may have about your injury or treatment plan. Your doctor is there to help you recover from your injury and get back to work as soon as possible, so it’s critical to work together to develop a plan that is tailored to your individual needs and circumstances.
Overall, effective communication with your doctor is key to ensuring that you receive the medical care and workers’ compensation benefits you’re entitled to under the law. By providing clear and accurate information about your injury, symptoms and medical history, you can help your doctor develop a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses your unique needs and goals.
If you have any further questions about treatment with a doctor, our Atlanta-based workers’ compensation lawyers at Gerber & Holder are here to help. With additional offices in Athens and Columbus, we are conveniently located to serve you throughout Georgia.