There are questions that any patient can and should ask his or her treating doctor in a personal injury case. This list is not meant to be exhaustive or complete, but rather is meant to generate ideas for more questions that patients should be asking their doctors.
It can seem intimidating to be in a doctor’s office; the doctor is the expert and he or she is about to examine and treat you for your injuries. However, there is nothing wrong with asking your doctor about the experience that he or she has had in dealing with the types of injuries that you’re suffering from.
What treatment plan does your doctor have in mind for you? If it’s a knee injury for instance does your doctor recommend physical therapy, and if so what type? There are many types of physical therapy, including conservative physical therapy, muscle strengthening and strength training exercises, stretching programs, aqua therapy, combinations of heat and cold applied to the injured body part. Some doctors include more holistic therapies such as chiropractic or acupuncture. Does your doctor agree or disagree with these holistic programs, and if so why or why not? How long will the therapy be attempted? What results should you expect? If the therapy is only partially successful or unsuccessful, what’s next? How soon after the injury does your doctor want you to start physical therapy? Is the physical to be done at your doctor’s facility? Are the physical therapists licensed? Who actually performs the physical therapy? How long is each physical therapy session? Is there more than one type of physical therapy that you will be participating in during any given day? Will the use of heat and ice at home be beneficial to you? How often should the heat be applied, and how often should the ice be applied, and for how long a duration of time?
Prescription and Nonprescription Medication
What type of medicine does your doctor intend on prescribing? Why does your doctor want to prescribe this particular medication, or their over-the-counter alternatives? Are the medicines necessary? What are they designed to do? Will they interfere with any other medication that you are taking?
There are a slew of test out there these days that doctors readily utilize. These include x-rays, CT Scans, MRI”s, EMG’s muscle strengthening testing. Ask your doctor early in your treatment what type of test he or she would recommend and why. Be open and honest about whether you think you can participate in any of the tests and if not why not. For instance some people have a difficult time with MRI’s beacuse they can be claustrophobic. There are other types of open MRI machines that do not create the feeling of claustrophobia. Discuss this with your doctor and discuss other alternatives.
How soon after your injury can you return to work? How soon after your injury can you begin participating in recreational or other activities?
In order to claim disability benefits, your doctor must disable you and provide you with a disability note to give to your employer. Depending on the seriousness of your injury, you may or may not be disabled. If you feel you are unable to do your job, discuss this with your doctor, and provide your doctor with the specifics of what is required of you on your job. Explain to your doctor why you think you cannot perform the duties of your occupation. If you and your doctor both agree that you are disabled, ask your doctor if based on his or her experience he or she can estimate how long your disability will last. Ask your doctor if his or her office generally provides a disability note that you can give to your employer. The same types of questions should apply for recreational or social activities. One of our clients recently injured her elbow in an accident. She was an avid tennis player. Against our doctor’s recommendation, she returned to playing tennis about a month too soon. She reinjured her elbow playing tennis, and it not only delayed her recovery, but also had a negative impact on their personal injury case. Ask your doctor what activities you should generally avoid, and for how long those activities should be avoided.
Report Writing/Testifying at Trial
In order to prove your injuries in a personal-injury case, your lawyer must have reports from your treating doctor. Will your doctor provide these reports? Does your doctor provide these reports as a regular part of his or her practice? In addition, in order to prove your case at trial, your lawyer must have the cooperation of your doctor in terms of either testifying live at trial or providing videotaped deposition testimony. Most doctors are willing to not only write reports summarizing their patient’s injury, but are also willing to testify by, at the very least, videotaped deposition before trial. There’s nothing wrong with asking your doctor whether he or she is willing to do that.
Permanency of Your Injury
Can your doctor tell you based on his or her experience what the extent of permanency of your injury will be. Some injuries are readily apparent that they will be permanent, for instance a scar. But ask your doctor how long it will take that scar to heal and what you can do to help the healing process. Other injuries are not readily apparent in terms of whether they will be permanent. Some injuries only appear after certain tests are done, for instance after an MRI is completed. Ask your doctor what the full meaning is of the test and ask how the physical injury will affect you long-term. What is your prognosis? What are the residual effects of the injury expected to be?
Find out from your doctor how often you should return to the office for evaluations and for physical therapy appointments. Will your doctor be the one that sees you on the follow up evaluations or will one of his or her associates see you?
Referrals to Other Specialists
Ask your doctor whether he or she plans on having you seen by other specialists in order to evaluate your injury. If so, what type of specialist does he or she intend on referring you to? Why the need for the referral? What type of specialist, is it an orthopedic surgeon, a neurologist, a neurosurgeon, a pain management specialist? How will this new doctor assist you during the healing process and in what way?
Stuart A. Carpey, who has been practicing as an attorney since 1987, focuses his practice on complex civil litigation which includes representing injured individuals in a vast array of personal injury cases.