If you have suffered a work injury and are receiving workers’ compensation benefits, one of the most important decisions you will make is which doctor you choose. This isn’t necessarily true in every case, as most work injury claims involve minor injuries and little, if any, lost time from work.
Example: Foot and Hand Injuries Can Be Severely Disabling
On the other hand, there are many injuries which are more serious and may involve prolonged and extensive treatment, including surgery. That’s where your choice of treating physician can have a significant impact on your claim (and your life). While most people would agree that a serious back or neck injury can be devastating, significant hand or foot injuries can often be just as serious.
Those of us fortunate enough to be in good health probably take for granted the ability to be on our feet all day – walking, standing, climbing stairs or ladders, etc. Similarly, we don’t often give much thought to the hundreds of activities we perform each day with our hands and fingers. However, a serious injury to the feet or hands can suddenly and dramatically transform a person’s life.
If you don’t have a desk job, like I do, you are likely to be on your feet all day, whether indoors or out. If you work outside you may be walking on uneven ground, climbing ladders, scaffolding or in and out of vehicles or heavy equipment. Even if you have a desk job, imagine trying to do that job with only one hand. Or, imagine trying to perform your basic activities of daily living with only one hand.
Considerations in Choosing a Treating Specialist
That’s why your choice of a treating specialist is so important, both in the context of your work comp claim and for your overall medical care and recovery. During my initial meeting with new clients, I always make sure to stress that the choice of treating physician is extremely important. This is especially true if a potential surgery is in your future. Further, there are two important considerations I always look for in a treating physician:
1. Is the physician experienced and highly skilled in his or her area of specialty?
This is important for obvious reasons. If you have a serious injury, you want the best possible doctor evaluating your injury, making treatment recommendations and, possibly, performing surgery. If you absolutely must have surgery, you only want to have it done once and done right.
There are highly regarded and top-notch specialists in all different areas of medicine and they are generally well known and recognized by their peers and other professionals. I regularly exchange information with a network of other attorneys regarding the best doctor for any particular type of injury. In my 35 years of workers’ compensation practice I have seen firsthand which doctors have provided the very best medical care for my clients or their families. Those are the doctors I regularly and confidently recommend. Sometimes the closest or most convenient medical provider is not the best choice.
2. Is the physician familiar with the work comp system and willing to help you if a medical/legal issue arises in your claim?
This is where it sometimes gets tricky. There are a number of doctors who are highly regarded specialists but who will not necessarily help you in a work comp claim. For whatever reason, some doctors simply refuse to prepare letters or reports in a work comp claim to assist a patient. This is a problem if the insurance company sends you to a doctor for an “Independent Medical Examination” (IME) and then discontinues your benefits or refuses to authorize certain medical care.
In a Minnesota work comp claim, the burden of proof is on the employee. This means that if you are fighting for wage loss or medical benefits, you will need a doctor who is willing to help you with a supporting medical report. If I know that a certain doctor or medical facility is unwilling to write a report for me or answer my questions, I cannot recommend that doctor or facility to my clients.
Knowledge and Experience in Recommending Medical Specialists
An experienced work comp attorney will know who the best medical specialists are both in terms of expertise and willingness to help with a work comp claim. If you have questions about selecting a treating physician or specialist, the time to seek legal advice is before you make the choice. Unfortunately, I frequently speak with people who have had an unsuccessful surgery and are now looking for another doctor to get a second opinion and additional treatment recommendations.
At Bradt Law Offices, we have been helping injured workers throughout all of northeastern Minnesota for more than 35 years. Your initial consultation is always free and you will always get my honest evaluation of your claim, your options and whether you need to hire a lawyer. Contact us anytime with your questions or if you are simply looking for a little information to help you deal with the insurance adjuster handling your claim.