Health Care Treatment Options
As mentioned previously, it is absolutely essential to your case that you verify your injuries by seeking medical attention from a licensed doctor as soon as possible after the accident.
To that end, you have numerous health care provider options:
- emergency room;
- family practice;
- urgent care;
- after-hours clinic;
- pain management;
- physical therapy;
- occupational therapy;
- mental health care; and
- other licensed health care provider.
Once you have selected a doctor for treatment, given your physician a complete and accurate medical history including all accident-related symptoms, and submitted yourself for physical examination and diagnostic testing, you must follow your doctor’s treatment advice and go to every scheduled medical appointment. With so many qualified health care options, choosing a doctor can be difficult. Therefore, it may help to break the decision down step-by-step.
First, you must decide whether to go to the emergency room (ER) immediately after the accident. If you begin experiencing pain at the scene of the accident, especially severe pain, a trip to the ER is probably a good idea. If your pain is extreme or you are disoriented or confused, you should consider allowing an ambulance to transport you. The ER can check your vitals and take x-rays to rule out broken bones. However, in most instances the ER will not order an MRI so they will be unable to determine whether you have a disc injury in your neck or back. Usually, at the time of discharge the ER will provide instructions to follow up with your primary care physician and other specialists as required. The upside of the ER is that it is a great precautionary measure to treat or rule out urgent acute injuries; the downside is that ER bills are extraordinarily expensive.
If you elect to forego the ER, you should nevertheless see a doctor as soon as any pain or other symptoms arise. If you have a primary care or family doctor, that is typically the best place to start, assuming you can schedule a prompt appointment. Another decent starting point would be an urgent care center or an after hours clinic.
Whether you began your medical treatment at the ER, family doctor, or after hours clinic, you should consider seeing a specialist if your symptoms persist more than a few weeks after the accident. Below is a basic description of some, but not all, of your options. As you will see, there are many paths to healing traumatic injuries arising out of car, truck, and motorcycle accidents.
It might be a good idea to discuss these options with your personal injury attorney before scheduling your appointment. You will find that not all doctors—or even every excellent physician—are interested in treating patients injured in automobile accidents. Some doctors decline patients who face potential litigation because they have no interest in reporting, corresponding, or testifying to attorneys. It is essential to your case that the doctor you choose is not only able to treat you competently, but also capable and willing to communicate your injuries’ diagnosis, causation, prognosis, and costs to the attorneys involved in your case. You doctor is just as important to proving your injuries as her or she is to healing your wounds.
Emergency medicine is a specialty involving care for patients with acute injuries and illnesses that require immediate medical attention. Treatment in the ER generally involves medical conditions that need immediate care that are particularly severe or acute in nature. Health care providers in this realm of medicine provide care for most traumatic injuries. However, emergency medicine is not an option for long-term, rehabilitative care. Aptly named, you should generally only seek the help of emergency medicine providers in the case of an emergency situation where care cannot or should not be delayed—an emergency!
Discussed above is the decision of whether to visit the ER after a motor vehicle accident. Of course, you should also understand that sometimes after an automobile accident, emergency responders will bring you to the ER whether you request it or not. One example is if you are unconscious. Another would be if you are otherwise incapacitated.
Whether you visit the ER of your own volition or while unconscious, the important takeaway is that the ER should not be your last medical visit. You should follow up with your family doctor or a specialist to treat or rule out long-term injuries.
Visiting a general practitioner, particularly your family physician or internist, after an automobile accident is an excellent place to start. This is the doctor who likely knows you best. They will have records that can reflect changes in your condition before and after the automobile accident. From there, they can help you pinpoint what injures may have resulted from the accident. General practitioners have a broad range of knowledge of many different kinds of medicine, and this allows them to refer you to other specialists that can further help you treat your conditions. Frequently, you will not visit your general practitioner about the injury after he or she refers you to another health care provider that specializes in treating your injury.
Though they may not be able to treat your condition, visiting your general practitioner after an accident is wise. He or she will be able to analyze your symptoms and send you in the right direction for additional care.
If you do not already have a family doctor or internist, consider visiting an urgent care center or after hours clinic. They can provide many of the services a primary care physician would offer.
Neurology is a branch of medicine that specializes in disorders of the nervous system. This means that neurologists and neurosurgeons are doctors who work with patients who suffer from spine and brain injuries. Therefore, if you were involved in an automobile accident that caused trauma to your back, neck, or head, a doctor specializing in neurology may be able to help you.
Though neurologists and neurosurgeons practice in similar realms, they are technically two distinct types of doctors. A neurologist typically focuses on the investigation, diagnosis, treatment, and therapy of neurological injuries and illnesses. Neurologists manage conditions for patients non-surgically and they counsel patients through the appropriate treatments. Neurosurgeons are essentially neurologists’ corresponding surgical specialists. Therefore, in addition to diagnosing neurological injuries, neurosurgeons decide what surgical options are appropriate for the patient and perform both invasive and non-invasive surgeries improve the conditions.
Neurologists and neurosurgeons are uniquely qualified to treat TBI, headaches, and other head injuries. Like many of the other types of doctors listed below, neurological specialists are also adept at treating spinal disc injuries and spinal fractures.
Orthopedic specialists focus on the musculoskeletal system, so they treat numerous common traumatic injuries caused by car accident. Like neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons are qualified to perform back and neck surgery. Indeed, orthopedic surgeons operate on a wide variety of injured body parts such as bones, joints, discs, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Bone fractures, dislocations, herniated spinal discs, strains, sprains, muscle injuries, tendon injuries, ligament injuries, spinal injuries, and other kinds of injuries that result from automobile accidents are treated by orthopedic surgeons. These health care providers sometimes choose to specialize in the types of injuries they treat as well as the impacted areas of the body that they treat. This means that some orthopedic surgeons focus on only the spine while others operate on shoulders, knees, elbows, and other frequently injured joints.
Like neurologists, orthopedic specialists are excellent at treating spine injuries. They offer both surgical and non-surgical treatments options. Although orthopedic doctors treat a wider variety of body parts than their colleagues in neurology, orthopedists do not treat head injuries such as TBI.
Pain management is a branch of medicine employing an interdisciplinary approach for easing the suffering and improving the quality of life of patients living with pain. Pain clinics employ doctors trained in a variety of specialties, including neurology, orthopedics, anesthesiology, and physiatry. Pain specialists are experts at diagnosing the cause of pain and treating it. They focus on bone, muscle, and nerve injuries. This makes them well qualified to handle the traumatic back, neck, and head injuries so prevalent with auto accidents.
Pain management uses the latest research available to offer the newest, most effective treatments to minimize pain as well as time-tested mainstays such as medications, physical therapy, injections, electrical stimulations, minimally invasive surgeries, and psychological support. The ultimate goal of these doctors is to find the source of your debilitating pain and rehabilitate you. If you are experiencing any kind of pain that you believe is associated with an automobile accident in which you were involved, a pain specialist may be able to help you.
Rheumatology is a sub-specialty in internal medicine dedicated to diagnosis and therapy of rheumatic diseases, a non-specific term for medical problems affecting the joints and/or connective tissue. Clinicians who specialize in rheumatology are called rheumatologists. Rheumatologists deal mainly with clinical problems involving joints, soft tissues, autoimmune diseases, vasculitis, and heritable connective tissue disorders.
Back pain and neck pain are among the few major rheumatic disorders currently recognized. Rheumatologists prove particularly effective at treating soft tissue injuries in the cervical and lumbar spines where MRI and other diagnostic tests are unable to objectively reveal the source of the pain. In the absence of objective diagnostics like MRI images revealing herniated spinal discs, rheumatologists are often helpful to proving your pain was caused by the accident rather than a preexisting condition.
Radiology is a medical specialty that uses imaging technology to diagnose and treat disease seen within the body. Radiologists use a variety of imaging techniques such as X-ray radiography, ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), nuclear medicine, positron emission tomography (PET), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to interpret and analyze information needed to diagnose or treat diseases.
Typically, when in need of an x-ray or MRI, your treating doctor will order that diagnostic test and a radiologist will then review the images, analyze the contents, and issue a report interpreting the results. Occasionally, the radiology report will suggest additional diagnostic testing. In limited instances, radiologists can administer certain treatments to patients. However, in most instances where you seek the help of a radiologist in the context of your automobile accident injuries, that doctor will probably not treat you beyond interpreting your diagnostic imaging.
Sometimes your treating physician will rely solely on the radiologist’s report, but usually your treating neurology, orthopedic, or pain management specialist will review the actual images in addition to the radiology report.
Chiropractic care provides a useful alternative to traditional medicine for treating auto accident injuries, especially back and neck problems. These specialists emphasize diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine, under the belief that these disorders affect general health through the nervous system. Chiropractors focus on the conservative management of the neuromusculoskeletal system without the use of surgery or medicine, placing a special emphasis on the spine.
Back and neck pain are the specialties of chiropractic care. The focus of chiropractic practice is the vertebral subluxation or spinal joint subluxation, dysfunctional biomechanical spinal displacements that actively alter neurological function. Subluxations interfere with the body’s function.
Chiropractors utilize manipulation of the musculoskeletal system, particularly the spine, called “spinal adjustment” or “chiropractic adjustment.” In short, doctors of chiropractic manually adjust bones of the spine in order to treat the patient. Chiropractic adjustment is a passive manual maneuver during which a three-joint complex is taken past the normal range of movement, but not so far as to dislocate or damage the joint. The process is defined by a dynamic thrust – a sudden force that causes an audible release and attempts to increase a joint’s range of motion. Chiropractic diagnosis may involve a range of methods including skeletal imaging, observational and tactile assessments, and other evaluations. In many instances, especially when MRI reveal disc injuries, a chiropractor may refer a patient to an appropriate medical doctor specialist, or co-manage the patient with another health care provider.
Many chiropractors highlight their ability to help with whiplash, which of course frequently results from automobile accidents. They are quite capable of treating many other traumatic injuries.
PHYSICAL AND OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY
Over many years of practicing personal injury law, I have noticed an interesting trend: my severely injured clients love their physical therapists. When you consider that the hours they spend together are extremely painful and incredibly challenging, this fact is genuinely impressive. Physical therapy is one profession that has the whole “client satisfaction thing” figured out!
Physical therapy, also called physiotherapy or abbreviated as “PT,” is a health care profession that remediates impairments and promotes mobility, function, and quality of life through examination, diagnosis, and physical intervention (using mechanical force and movement). The primary physical therapy practitioner is the physical therapist (also called a “PT”) who is trained and licensed to examine, evaluate, diagnose and treat impairment, functional limitations and disabilities in patients or clients. PTs are assisted by physical therapist assistants. Physical therapy must be prescribed by a doctor, meaning that you cannot directly book an appointment for physical therapy without a doctor’s note.
Though physical therapy and occupational therapy share similar characteristics, such as the goal of rehabilitation, they are actually distinct treatment options. When you are involved in an automobile accident, you may experience an injury that will require therapy to ensure a full recovery. Whenever you are unable to perform physical functions that you were able to perform before your accident, you may need to see a physical or occupational therapist.
Physical therapists treat a variety of physically limiting symptoms caused by injuries. In general, they aim to relieve their patient’s pain as well as treat their patients’ mobility problems that relate to strength, balance, endurance, and other aspects. When you seek treatment from a physical therapists, they will usually work in a hands-on fashion in order to improve your condition. Generally, physical therapists will design a treatment plan for you and help you achieve certain goals. These will often include treatments such as soft tissue massage and balance training. A physical therapist will help you with more general goals such as improving balance or regaining control over body parts.
Occupational therapists are focused on rehabilitating their patients in different realms of life such as work, leisure, and everyday life functions. An occupational therapist will generally look at the physical limitations of a patient and analyze what kind of treatment is appropriate. These treatments will often include a mixture of exercises that will help you regain the ability, control, and function you had over a particular body part before your injury. The ultimate goal of occupational therapists is narrower than those of physical therapists in the sense that they are generally focused on improving function in particular realms of life or work. For instance, they may help someone specifically with regaining functions that are vital to their specific job.
MENTAL HEALTH CARE
Unfortunately, auto accidents can damage you beyond the physical injuries described above. Sometimes, your mental health is diminished. The emotional and psychological consequences of a motor vehicle crash can be even tougher to take than back and neck injuries.
Mental health refers to your level of psychological well-being or the absence of a mental disorder. Good mental health means you are functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment. According to World Health Organization (WHO), mental health includes “subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, intergenerational dependence, and self-actualization of one’s intellectual and emotional potential, among others.”
Mental health specialists often treat patients who have experienced situations, such as violent vehicle collisions with resulting injuries, which have left them with pain, suffering, anxiety, shock, emotional distress, or other mental health ailments. In an automobile accident, these professionals often treat the above mentioned conditions, as a car accident can spur those conditions in victims. If you believe that you are experiencing any of the above conditions, a mental health specialist may be able to help you improve your condition. Many kinds of doctors and other professionals treat mental health problems:
- clinical psychologists,
- clinical social workers, and
- mental health counselors.
If you feel like your levels of emotional and behavioral well-being have been harmed as a result of the accident, please discuss this with your treating physician, personal injury lawyer, or someone else you trust that can assist you in scheduling an appointment with a mental health professional.