Being handed a return to work letter from your doctor before you feel able to work can be very upsetting. Knowing your rights can help you take the necessary steps to ensure your well-being.
The fact is you’re not alone. Many people who have been injured on the job feel pressured to return to work before they are ready. This pressure can come from their employer or by their workers’ compensation doctor.
If you don’t feel ready to return to work, what are your options when either the doctor or your employer are saying it’s
What is a Return to Work Letter?
When the doctor feels you have recovered to the Maximum Medical Improvement level of recovery, he will complete a Notice of Ability to Return to Work letter. This form will say you have been cleared and can return to work. The doctor may insert some restrictions due to you still being in recovery.
It is best to read the letter thoroughly to be aware of any restrictions the doctor has placed in it. Depending on the terms with your employer, you may not be able to return immediately. Most states don’t require the employer to hold your job for you. So, a job may not be available for you, even if your doctor has cleared you for work.
Who Selects Your Work Compensation Doctor?
There’s no specific answer to this question other than it depends on where you live. Some states require that the employer selects the doctor. If you live in New York, you can choose on your own.
There is one small extra requirement. If the workers’ comp insurance policy owned by your employer contains a list of in-network doctors, you are required to visit one of those doctors for the first 30 days following a workplace injury.
After 30 days, you can select another doctor and see whomever you want to see. This matter is entirely up to you. If you are happy with the in-network doctor, you can also continue to see that doctor, or you can select another. The choice is yours alone.
Here are a few examples of costs which are commonly covered:
- The office visit and medical prescription expenses
- Surgical costs
- Medical supplies or equipment
- Commuting expenses to get to the doctor’s office
How to Select a Treating Doctor
Choosing the right doctor to treat you during a workers’ compensation claim can be critical. This doctor should not only be able to address your injuries but also issue findings that will play a role in your case. Many people make the mistake of only looking for a doctor who can treat their injuries, but has no experience in handling workers’ compensation claims.
This knowledge gap can cost you in getting the approval you need for your case.
When selecting a doctor, there are many things to consider. Good reviews and their experiences are just the beginning. It would be best if you had a clear understanding of what the practice as a whole can offer and how it will help in your care.
Depending on your injury, you may need specialists like an orthopedist, pain management, neurologist, physiatrist, or chiropractic doctor. Choosing a primary care physician or family medicine doctor could be detrimental to the care you need.
During the first phone call to find out availability, take the time to make specific inquiries about their practice. Make it a priority to learn if the practice offers or networks with any of these services:
- Physical Therapy
- Pain management doctor
- Diagnostic tools such as Xrays, MRI, CAT scans, and Nerve Conduction tests (EMG, NCV)
What Diagnostic Tests Will You Need in a Workers Compensation Case?
When you’ve suffered a workplace injury, you may need several types of diagnostic tests. The tests can determine the severity and extent of your injury, including broken bones, torn muscles, and ligaments.
Here are some of the common types of diagnostic tests used in workers’ compensation cases.
General Radiology Tests
From simple XRAYS to CAT Scans and Ultrasounds, many tests can fall under the scope of general radiology tests. The types of tests you will receive are determined by the nature and location of your injury. If you’ve hurt your head, it will be a CAT Scan, but if it’s a broken bone, you’ll get an XRAY.
A Magnetic Resonance Imagining test or MRI enables doctors to see soft tissue through a computer. A special dye will be injected that helps to provide more definition to the image and makes it easier to see damage or inflammation.
There are different types of MRIs, and some of them include:
- Abdominal MRI
- Cervical MRI
- Chest MRI
- Cranial MRI
- Heart MRI
- Lumbar MRI
- Pelvic MRI
Electromyography or EMG
This test reveals the electrical activity in your muscles and nerves. It helps diagnose a back injury like a pinched nerve. Extremely thin needles are inserted into the muscle, and they send signals back to the computer for diagnosis.
These tests are used to diagnose possible problems related to balance. If you’ve injured the nerves in the vestibular system, your brain, or the section of the inner ear that keeps you balanced, this is the test that will be used to diagnose it.
Autonomic Nervous System Tests
If it is suspected that something is wrong with your autonomic nervous system, these tests help determine what is wrong. The ANS regulates things like your blood pressure, heart rate, skin temperature, and sweating.
What Not to Say to Your Workers’ Compensation Doctor
Now that you’ve found a doctor, there are certain things you shouldn’t say or do if you want your claim approved. Most agree that one of the worst things you can do is exaggerate or say that your injuries are worse than they actually are. If you have a pre-existing condition due to a prior injury, be upfront about it.
When your doctor looks into your past medical records, they will see you’ve had a previous injury. If you’ve hidden that you had a prior injury, the doctor may assume that your current injury is related to the past one. Due to this, it is best to be honest, and provide your full medical history.
Finding a Doctor Near You
One of the mistakes you can make is not finding a Workman’s Compensation doctor near to you. After all, getting to the doctor should be as convenient as possible, especially if you are injured.
Missing appointments can even hinder your claim. So, it is best to select a doctor who is near to you to avoid all the hassles.
Can I Get a Second Opinion With My Workers’ Compensation Doctor?
Again, the answer is, “it depends on your state.” If you live in New York and the in-network doctor isn’t listening, or you disagree with the doctor’s opinion on your progress, you can get a second opinion from a doctor of your choosing.
If the doctor you are seeing clears you for work or believes that your injuries are not as severe as you think they are, this could affect your workers’ compensation benefits. It is up to you at that point to see out a second opinion from a reputable Workers’ Compensation doctor who can reassess the findings of the doctor and conceivably sustain or restore your benefits.
Very often, there will be a hearing before the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board to decide which opinion will prevail. In some cases, it never gets to this point because the insurance company will choose to side with the second opinion.
When Should You See a Neurologist?
A neurologist is a doctor that specializes in damage to and diseases of the spinal cord, central nervous system, and brain. If you’ve had a severe workplace injury that may have caused damage to your back, neck, or head, and then you may need to see a neurologist.
Here are a few symptoms to watch out for:
If you’ve noticed you’re getting more headaches than usual and they are more severe than you’ve experienced before, it could be a sign of damage to your brain, neck, or upper back. There many things that can cause headaches, but people tend to suffer through them primarily.
Another sign that you may have damage to your nervous system is feeling dizzy. If you rarely experienced this before your injury, it is genuinely concerning.
Chronic Pain in Your Back, Neck, or Head
Chronic pain is not natural, and if you begin feeling this type of pain, you should see your doctor immediately. They will more likely refer you to a neurologist for more testing, particularly if there’s no apparent cause.
What Are Work Restrictions or Light Duty?
Your employer and workers’ compensation representative should have copies of your work restrictions. It may help to keep an extra copy with you when you return to work.
While it’s perfectly normal to want to push yourself when you like your employer, it is best to follow the instructions mentioned in your work restrictions and don’t perform activities or work longer hours than those indicated.
The same applies to situations where the employer is less than accommodating. It is worth mentioning that if you quit your job or reject a task that falls within your work restrictions, you may lose your workers’ compensation as well as your benefits and any potential disability settlement.
After an injury, it’s necessary to manage pain with medication. However, at some point in your recovery, you should seek out other methods. No one wants to live in pain, and no one wants to need to take a ton of pills that can be addictive either. So, how can you manage your pain without medication?
Many will think this seems a little backward-you’re already in pain, should you risk injuring yourself more with exercise? In many cases, the opposite is true. It depends on the cause of your pain, sometimes strengthening and loosening the muscles and body can help reduce your pain.
Physical therapists work specific muscles or parts of the body. Similar to exercise, it can aid in restoring mobility and reduce or remove the pain. Since a physical therapist is a professional specially trained to do this, there’s little chance of further injury.
There are many benefits to physical therapy:
- Pain control with less of a need for opioids
- Avoiding an operation
- Enhanced mobility and movement
- Rehabilitation from injury or trauma
- Rehabilitation from stroke or paralysis
- Fall prevention
- Better balance
- Control of age-related medical problems
Massage and Chiropractic Care
While chiropractors can help realign your spine, neck, and head to reduce inflammation and other issues, a therapeutic massage can aid in easing the pain in your muscles. It’s a better answer than medication, even though you may need this kind of treatment frequently.
Orthopedic surgery may be the best option for pain in extreme cases. Even though most people would rather not have surgery, to live completely pain-free, it can be the better option. With all the advances in medicine, many operations are only minimally invasive, making them excellent choices.
Planning to Return to Work
Sometime after your injury, your doctor will say you can return to work.
- Make sure your doctor knows your specific job duties.
- Clarify whether your doctor thinks any restrictions are necessary on what work you can do when you go back to work.
- Make sure any restrictions are detailed in writing. Give a copy of it to your employer and keep a copy for your records.
When you have a workplace injury, you need to start treatment as soon as possible. If you’re not happy with the doctor that is part of your company insurance plan, begin researching other doctors right away. After 30 days you’ll be ready with a doctor you feel comfortable with.
If you’re not ready when you get your return to work letter, contact a Workman’s Compensation Attorney. For assistance with your medical recovery, contact us.