Employees can be treated by many different types of doctors depending on how the accident occurred and they type of injuries suffered. Many workers need to see multiple doctors during the course of their recovery process. Some of the doctors who treat injured workers are:
- Emergency room physician. When an accident occurs, most employees are taken to the hospital emergency room. The ER doctor should be trained in making the initial diagnosis of the workers medical condition and trained to help immediately stabilize the patient’s condition and direct the patient to other doctors when needed. The ER doctor also is the physician who decides if the patient should be admitted to the hospital and whether to pull in consults with numerous other specialties such as orthopedic trauma doctors, or neurosurgeons. ER doctors often order blood tests, X-Rays, CT scans, MRIs, and other diagnostic tests to evaluate your condition. They also take an oral history and conduct a physical exam. ER doctors are normally trained in life-saving techniques such as cardiac care support and resuscitation.
- Orthopedic surgeon. For probably 90% of the cases we handle, this is the specialty and the physician who becomes the authorized treating doctor. This doctor diagnoses and treats injuries a worker’s bones and joints or disease of the bones and joints. Some orthopedic doctors specialize in a particular part of the body such as the neck, back, spine, shoulders or back. In addition to diagnosing and treating these injuries, orthopedic doctors can perform surgeries to repair bone and joint disorders. Employees who are involved in an auto accident, fall from a great height or have something fall on them, are involved in an explosion, or injured due to some form of violent condition; often require treatment by an orthopedist. Some orthopedic specialties are hand surgery, shoulder surgery, knee surgery, joint reconstruction, foot and ankle surgery, and spinal surgery.
- Physiatrist or Osteopathic Physicians. This doctor may work with patients who have had surgery and need rehabilitation, or someone who is trying to avoid surgery by engaging in more conservative treatment first. Physiatrists are not surgeons themselves, although some do perform surgeries. Physiatrists are also known as physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM & R) specialists. These doctors may do are muscle manipulation, epidural injections, alternative medicine such as acupuncture, and ultrasound-guided procedures. Physiatrists and osteopaths often fill the role of and are often found practicing as pain management physicians. Others care for patients such as quadriplegics or amputees on a long-term basis to assist them with increasing function and coping with their severe, lifelong injuries.
- Pain management. These physicians typically treat people with chronic pain. They are often anesthesiologists or physiatrists by training, although some are orthopedic surgeons as well. Treatments can include steroid injections, radiofrequency neurotomy (also known as ablation therapy) , nerve blocks, subcutaneous stimulator implants, and other remedies that can help minimize the pain. Most pain management doctors also prescribe pain medications including opioids. Their role has probably gotten more critical lately. This has come about as surgical physicians seek to transfer care of chronic pain patients out of their practices, out of fear of failure to comply with more stringent regulations and laws passed in Virginia and elsewhere in response to the nationwide epidemic of death from opioid overdose.
- Neurosurgeon. These physicians diagnose and treat neurological problems of the brain, neck, head, and back. Much of what they do tends to overlap that of the orthopedic physician, with regard to spine surgery. Neurosurgeons often perform spine surgeries, which frequently include multilevel fusions of the spine, using plates and screws, as well as brain surgeries to alleviate subdural hematomas.
- Neurologist. This doctor treats injuries to the nerves and diseases of the nerves, which may often involve chronic headaches, dizziness, or cognitive deficits, such as memory loss, after a head injury. He/she does not perform surgeries. Some of the tests a neurologist performs are EEGs, lumbar punctures, CT scans, and MRIs. He or she may also refer the patient out for neuropsychological testing to gauge a patient’s level of cognitive performance after a brain injury.
- Psychiatrist. This doctor diagnoses and treats patients with emotional and mental health problems. Treatment usually involves extensive counseling sessions to help identify the source of the patient’s difficulties. Psychiatrists are M.D.’s and therefore can also prescribe medications. Workers treat with psychiatrists to manage the emotional side of dealing with an injury and an inability to return to work, which often includes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Psychiatrists may sometimes use brain images such as CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans to help determine the cause of a worker’s behavioral and emotional difficulties. Some of the types of specialties psychiatrists have are addiction psychiatry, sleep medicine, geriatric, and clinical neuropsychology. Some psychiatrists see patients infrequently for medication updates, and delegate the psychotherapy role to psychologists or licensed therapists.
- Psychologists or licensed counselors. This type of doctor treats workers who have behavioral problems such as depression and emotional problems related to their injury. They are also trained in giving the patient mental health tests. Psychologists do not prescribe medications and are not M.D.’s. Some of the categories of psychologists are clinical psychologists, counseling psychologists, and educational psychologists and neuropsychologists. There are also counselors and licensed clinical social workers. Most, but not all psychologists have a PhD, so it is still appropriate to call them “Doctor.” Usually, psychologists use therapy/talk therapy. These sessions are usually hour- long sessions on a regular basis that can last weeks, months, or years. Workers usually get individual therapy. Some psychologists are trained to perform hypnosis.
Neuropsychologists may administer a battery of tests designed to gauge a worker’s level of cognitive dysfunction after an injury. The evaluation is usually ordered by a neurologist or neurosurgeon which physician is treating the patient for a brain injury.
- General surgeon. This physician performs many types of surgeries including those that an orthopedist or neurosurgeon would not normally perform, such as to repair damage to internal organs after an injury.
- Ophthalmologist. This is an eye doctor who can diagnose and medically treat patients who have visual injuries. An ophthalmologist can perform eye surgery such as cataract surgery.
- Audiologist. An audiologist is a doctor who treats works who lose some or all their hearing in one or both ears. These physicians are also trained to help workers with balance problems and workers who have tinnitus.
- Pulmonary Physician. these physicians are often seen in the context of asbestos, silicosis, or other work-related lung diseases. Most of the pulmonary doctors who do this are qualified to give something called a “B Reading.” A “B Reading” is an important standard gauge of lung damage caused by asbestos or silicosis which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor. An attorney who is familiar with B-readings can often translate the level of damage into potential recovery for the worker, in accordance with statutory law. In Virginia, this is broken down into First Stage, Second Stage, and Third Stage.
Occasionally, a pulmonary physician may be utilized for acute exposures to hazardous chemicals to gauge the effects on the lungs via a pulmonary function test.
- Cardiologist. This is a heart doctor who diagnoses heart disease and risks for heart attacks and heart strokes. He/she prescribes medications such as statins and performs surgeries such as implanting stents and bypass surgery. Some of the tests a cardiologist performs are an echocardiogram which is a soundwave image of the heart’s structure, an ambulatory echocardiogram which is a test to look or abnormal heart rhythms, a stress test to examine a worker’s limitation, and a cardiac catheterization which takes pictures of the heart and helps relieve blockages of the heart.
- Chiropractor. Some injured employees see chiropractors for diagnosis and treatment of soft-tissue injuries and injuries to the spine. Coverage is limited and not all workers compensation insurance companies will pay for treatment with chiropractors. They are not licensed to perform surgeries or prescribe medicine. They do manipulate and perform adjustments of the spine. They also treat nerve functions. Workers who treat with chiropractors normally see the chiropractor multiple times. If warranted, a referral to an orthopedic surgeon may be made by the chiropractor.
- Independent medical examiners. (IME’s) Often, during the course of treatment, the employer’s insurance company will demand that the worker see an “independent” doctor. This doctor really isn’t neutral. He/she is usually chosen by the employer to try to show that the worker is able to return to work, and/or that the injuries and treatment recommended by the worker’s physicians are not related to the work accident. The good news is that the opinion of the authorized treating doctor is usually followed, not that of the defense IME physician. Your Virginia or North Carolina worker’s compensation lawyer will explain when independent medical examiners can conduct an exam of the employee and what the worker should know about the exam such as what tests and questions the IME doctor is likely to perform or ask and how the worker should best conduct him or herself.
In addition to treating with doctors, injured workers will also treat with the following types of health-care professionals
- Nurses and Nurse Practitioners (NP’s)
- Physicians’ Assistants (PA’s)
- Occupational therapists
- Speech therapists
- Vocational counselors
- Physical therapists
Contact a respected North Carolina or Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer now
Work injury attorney Joe Miller understands which types of doctors injured workers see. He often recommends doctors when the employer recommended doctors aren’t helping. He works with the doctors to determine the full extent of your injuries and to verify your long-term health needs and work restrictions. To speak with an experienced work injury lawyer who has been fighting for employees for more than 25 years, please call attorney Miller Esq. at (888) 694-1671 or use his contact form to schedule an appointment.