Doctor visits can be uncomfortable and unfamiliar. You worry about treatment, recovery and cost. You worry about missing work or other activities. You wait for an appointment (maybe a long time). When you finally see the doctor, he or she is very busy. You are rushed to an examination room and have just moments to discuss your injury. The whole process is stressful.
I spend a lot of time reading about doctor visits from the medical records. In personal injury cases, the medical records are critical. Documentation is key. If you have a workers’ compensation claim, the insurance carrier will only approve prescribed treatment if the medical documentation supports it. If you have any type of personal injury case (whether car accident, workers’ compensation or anything else), the insurance company will only factor issues into its settlement offers if the documentation justifies them. If your claim eventually goes to trial, you will need the doctor’s testimony. When the doctor testifies, he will likely stick to the facts and issues documented in the medical records. Documentation is essential at every stage — Treatment, Negotiation and Trial.
At every visit, the doctor documents your history, treatment and condition. Because of that, an open and honest dialogue is essential. You need to pick a skilled and caring physician. Then, you also need to communicate properly regarding the injuries and treatment.
As a lawyer, I’ve seen many innocent patient mistakes tremendously impact personal injury claims and trials. Mistakes can drastically reduce the value of claims. With that in mind, here are eight mistakes to avoid when seeking medical treatment for your Alabama personal injury claim:
I. Waiting To Seek Medical Treatment
It seems like I deal with this problem on a weekly basis. Many people wait for treatment until they simply cannot bear the pain any longer. The problem is that both insurance companies and juries will often conclude you must not be hurt badly. I hear it from insurance adjusters constantly — If he were really hurt, he would have seen a doctor sooner! I’ve also heard defense lawyers make the same argument to juries in trial.
If you wait too long before seeing a doctor, then the physician is also less likely to support your injury. I’ve heard doctors testify that they could not relate a medical problem to the prior accident because the person waited too long.
I understand the hope that your injury is minor. I understand the desire to avoid doctor appointments if possible. But, if you are hurt in an accident, you need to go to the hospital or doctor. You need to be checked. Waiting too long is a real problem.
II. Missing Medical Appointments
Want to ruin your case? Start missing medical appointments. The first thing that will happen — You will make your doctor mad. That’s a big problem if you need continued treatment. It’s also a problem for your claim. If you are my client, I’ll probably be frustrated and upset with you as well. Beyond the case, needless absences are also disrespectful to the doctor and his/her staff.
Miss appointments and people will quickly conclude you either did not care about getting better OR you are not hurt badly. People will begin viewing your complaints of pain or limitations with increased skepticism and doubt. You can count on the insurance company using your absences against you during negations or trial.
I understand an absence may be unavoidable. Maybe it snowed that day. Maybe you had a flat tire on the way to the appointment. If a genuine issue prevents your attendance at a scheduled appointment, let the clinic know immediately. Make sure it is documented. Make sure the clinic understands you had genuine issues.
III. Concealing Prior Medical History
The doctor needs to know your prior health history. It’s important to your diagnosis and treatment. It’s also important to the claim. Most clinics make you complete a health history form. Be honest.
In my practice, I frequently see clients who suffered a back injury. Sometimes, they had pre-accident back issues or treatment. Be honest if you did. Tell the doctor. Let the doctor know if you were functioning well before the accident. A back problem from years ago that healed is no big deal in many cases. Let the doctor know how the accident changed, worsened or aggravated any condition. If the accident worsened the pain or problems, then the insurance company should compensate you for that. Your medical history is important both to your treatment and claim.
When you have a claim, the insurance company (or its lawyers) will search your medical history. They will obtain your medical records. They will learn about your overall health. If you try to conceal your medical history, they will use it against you. They will make you look dishonest. They will also make your doctor start to doubt you.
IV. Discussing Your Legal Case
You are seeing a doctor to diagnose and treat your injury. The doctor needs to know about the accident in order to relate your condition to it. You need to tell him how you were hurt.
However, the doctor does not need to know you have filed a lawsuit OR what your lawyer said OR how the adjuster upset you. Whether you have hired a lawyer or filed a claim is NOT relevant to your diagnosis, condition and treatment. Avoid discussing your legal case. If the clinic has a form which asks about a claim or lawyer, you have to be honest. But, do not discuss those issues unless absolutely necessary.
Most doctors do NOT want to be involved in legal matters. When you discuss legal matters, a doctor may be LESS willing to treat you. When your legal discussion is recorded in the medical records, the insurance company will also try to use it against you. Even innocent legal discussions noted in the records can cast you in a bad light.
If you suffered a serious personal injury, your health and healing should be your top priority. Your relationship with the treating medical professionals is very important. You need to make the most of your medical visits. I hope this discussion will help you avoid mistakes that can harm your medical care and claim. Next week we will conclude the topic with four more patient mistakes you should avoid. In the meantime, let us know if you have any questions or comments. We are happy to answer your questions.
At the Blackwell Law Firm, we specialize in personal injury cases. From our office in Huntsville, we represent clients across Alabama. Our philosophy is based upon case preparation. We prepare and advise our clients at every step of the process. If you have questions, we are happy to provide answers.