Problems a Personal Injury Patient Has With Treating Doctors
Doctors and therapists often do not ask enough questions, or the right questions to understand exactly what is wrong with you. Sometimes, symptoms are not documented until months later, making it difficult for your lawyer to relate the condition to the accident. Often times, a medical provider's failure to understand, or know of your symptoms will lead to a lesser injury diagnosis then you really have. While you should be 100% honest about the severity of you injuries and symptoms, it is just as important to clearly explain all your injuries, not to leave anything out, not to minimize injuries, or let the doctor ignore an injury.
Let me share with you a typical example what you need to avoid.
A client is complaining of neck and shoulder pain. She tell her lawyer that the shoulder hurts when she raises her arm, or tries to lift anything heavy. Although the lawyer instructs her to make sure the doctor and therapist understands the shoulder is separate from the neck injury, she never makes this clear to the doctor and/or they ignore her. The doctor treats it as a neck injury "radiating" into the shoulder. He orders a cervical (neck) MRI, which is negative and says she only has a "soft tissue injury". Fortunately, her lawyer is paying attention and makes sure she gets a shoulder MRI; which shows a clear shoulder tear. The lawyer was able to make a significant financial recovery for an injury that could have been missed. You cannot always count on your lawyer to figure this out. It is up to you
What To Do:
Tell your Doctors and Therapists about ALL of your complaints. For example, if you have neck pain that sometimes radiates down your arm, do not just put "neck pain" (see below, for a more detailed explanation). If you are experiencing pain or discomfort in your Shoulder(s), Elbow(s), Wrist(s), Knee(s), or Ankle(s), you must report this to your doctors and therapists on every visit. Make sure those complaints are documented in writing.
Make a list if that helps you.
Your doctor and therapists cannot help if they don't know about all your complaints/injuries. Example: Do not just write "neck pain" if you are having neck pain radiating down your arm as well. (The list is to help you remember when writing down your complaints on New Patient Information forms and when speaking with the doctors
Do not minimize your pain/symptoms to your doctor
Don't say it "bothers" you, if it "hurts" you. If you experience "pain" on activities or motions that did not hurt you before the accident, say it! (This does not mean to exaggerate your pain).
How to explain your complaints
Tell the doctors whether you have Localized Pain, or Radiating Pain (numbness; weakness; pins & needles; etc.). If your shoulder, or knee is hurting independent of your neck and back pain, make sure they know this on every visit. What is "Radiating" Pain or Numbness? It is an uncomfortable and sometimes painful feeling that travels from one part of the body into another; such as from neck into your arm(s), or from your back into your leg(s). It can be a sharp pain; pins & needles; numbness and/or weakness. Some people describe it as a "shooting pain". REMEMBER: If you have neck pain radiating into your left arm, DO NOT just put down, "neck pain", when filling out the forms or explaining your symptoms.
IMPORTANT: What if you are not in pain (or, not having the "radiating" symptoms) when you are AT the doctor's office?
You will not experience ALL your symptoms all the time. Also, many of your symptoms (injuries) get worse with activity, or later in the day. IMPORTANT: Even if you are not having pain, or radiating pain at the time of your visit, BUT YOU ARE STILL HAVING THE PROBLEM, you must tell them it is still a problem. They MUST know how you are doing when trying to engage in activities, or how you feel after a day's work, NOT JUST how you are feeling at that moment. FOR EXAMPLE, if your symptoms get worse at the end of a work day and your examination or therapy appointment is in the morning, let them know. EXPLAIN that while you are not experiencing the same level of pain at the moment, you are still having the problem. For example: (a) "By the end of the work day, the pain starts shooting down my leg"; or (b) "Whenever I have to climb stairs my knee really hurts".
Avoid using words that can be misunderstood
For example, (A) If your pain is improving, but you are still having problems, do not just say it is "better." The doctor may think it went away completely. Say, "it is not hurting as bad (or as often, etc.), but I am still having the problem", or (B) Do not say your neck is "sore", or "bothers me", if you have "pain". If you have pain, say it
If you develop new or worsening complaints
If you develop new or worsening complaints, be sure to tell them at each visit. Don't forget about your therapist: Treat the therapist just like your doctor. It is important to tell the therapists about all your new and ongoing complaints, on every visit as well.
IMPORTANT: What if the Doctor (or Therapist) is Not Listening to You?
If you feel the doctor, or therapist is not treating, or paying attention to an area where you are having problems, for example your shoulders or knees, let your lawyer know immediately and be sure to discuss it with the doctor's office. If you're main problem is knee pain and they just want to give you therapy, or order tests for your neck or back, speak up. If they still not listen, or for any other reason you are not satisfied with your medical care, you need to consider finding a new doctor. You should always discuss your injuries and treatment concerns with your lawyer, but ultimately you, the patient, are responsible for clearly and accurately explaining your complaints to the medical providers and to make sure you are getting the treatment you need.
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