What do doctors look for when initially evaluating a patient for a work-related back injury?
When attorney Ben Gerber, co-founder of the law firm of Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys, attended a seminar with a number of highly respected orthopedic doctors, he asked them a number of questions regarding workers’ compensation patients.
One question he posed to them was:
What happens during an initial evaluation of an injured worker with a back injury?
Here is what he learned:
Learning about your medical history
The first item of business for the doctors is to obtain a detailed history from you, the patient. This history should focus on your injury both before and after the accident.
Typically, the history is obtained in a patient evaluation form that the injured worker fills out while sitting in the waiting room. We’ve all filled these out before. They are very important in a workers’ compensation case because they become a part of the official record.
The form should include details such as how your specific injury occurred. If your back injury was caused by repetitive stress and there was no specific incident, make sure to include that in the documentation. Take time to fill it out and answer all of the questions truthfully.
Doctors also review any and all medical records provided by the employer, by an insurance company or by the injured worker (you). This is a very important reason to hire an experienced workers’ compensation attorney. First impressions are often lasting ones, and an attorney representing an injured worker can help craft the best first impression by sending essential medical information to the doctor.
The insurance company will be providing their side of the story to the doctor, so we believe injured workers should have an advocate working for them too.
Observing the injured worker
Doctors are also keen to observe the injured worker before they meet with them. They want to observe how they move and react to different situations when they don’t realize that anyone is watching. Some doctors might observe the injured worker getting out of their chair when they are called, or how comfortable they are while they are seated in the waiting room.
Discovering the mechanism of the workplace injury
Another important piece of information for the doctors is a detailed description of how the accident happened. Doctors call this the “mechanism” of the injury. They want to know what was the actual position of the worker when the back injury occurred.
Was the worker, bent forward? Were they twisting? Did they fall and what body part did they land on? If you were injured during a work-related car accident, what are the details of the impact? Front end/rear end and side impact collisions can significantly different effects on the spine.
Be as specific as possible when describing your injury. This also means telling your attorney before the doctor’s appointment so they can provide the information to the doctor in a clear and concise manner.
Remember that most doctors will review all materials in their patient records before meeting with you. Our attorneys can help you describe your accident in terms that ensure your doctor understands the full extent of your injury.
Questions doctors typically ask patients
In addition to wanting a detailed description of your injury and how it happened, there are many other questions that doctors will typically ask the injured worker during their initial visit. Usually these questions are asked in person. These may include, but are not limited to, the timing, duration and severity of the injury.
Here are some common examples of both objective and subjective questions you should be prepared to answer:
- Was the pain immediate?
- How long has it been since the injury?
- Was the pain agonizing right away, or more moderate and tolerable?
- Could you keep working, or did you have to immediately stop?
- Are you still working?
- Are you working in a lighter duty capacity?
- What is your current activity level?
Performing a physical exam
Doctors will also typically perform a physical exam and may ask some of the questions listed above (in addition to others) during this exam. These other questions might include asking if certain positions or pressure makes the pain better or worse.
When presented with this line of questioning, avoid overly generalized answers such as, “Nothing makes the pain better” or “Everything makes the pain worse.” Be specific. If everything does indeed make the pain worse, explain where the pain moves to when you perform certain activities, or that the pain level is so intense that you have trouble getting comfortable enough to sleep. In this instance, specificity is your friend.
The purpose of the physical exam is to determine which movements provoke or alleviate your pain, as this can hint at the source of the pathology. A physical exam can point to an injury in the spinal discs, facet joints, muscles, nerves, or even structures outside the lumbar spine such as in the sacroiliac joint or in the hip. Physical exams allow the doctor to begin to make a proper diagnosis.
Importance on honesty and truthfulness
Lastly, it’s very important to be as truthful as possible with the treating doctor, especially when it comes to prior treatment. Prior treatment can be both for the injury that you are currently experiencing or treatment that took place years ago. For example, if you previously visited an industrial clinic and received physical therapy, disclose that information to the doctor.
As one doctor told us:
“It is very important to ascertain during the initial treatment if any treatment has taken place so that we can document whether the previous treatments have been successful or not.”
Being upfront and honest with the doctor will help them in prescribing effective future treatment. Furthermore, disclosure of past injuries can help the doctor determine what type of new injury or aggravation you are currently experiencing.
If you decide to work with an attorney, you may get more workers’ compensation benefits. In addition, you’ll have your own legal representative to help you file for additional medical expenses, financial compensation and approval for ongoing care. After all, your employer probably has its own legal team—or at least an insurance company with a legal team.
Contact an experience Georgia workplace back injury lawyer
If you have any questions about attending a doctor’s appointment during your workers’ compensation case, don’t hesitate to contact the knowledgeable Atlanta and Athens attorneys at Gerber & Holder.