Certain work sites are often dangerous. There are many nonfatal injuries suffered by workers that require a doctor’s visit. But if you’ve never been to a doctor due to an occupational illness or injury before, you might not know what to expect.
Making a first-time visit to a physician and sitting in the waiting area is a stressful experience. The anxiety is even higher for patients with work-related injuries, wondering how long it will take to regain their earning power. Fortunately, a few simple steps can lessen the angst. Preparation, knowledge about the roles of workers’ compensation doctors and an understanding of their diagnostic tools can empower you on the path to recovery from your work-related injury.
There is a one-word solution for lessening doctor visit anxiety: preparation. Working through the preparation phase will give you a tangible sense of empowerment. All of these steps are sound practice for a first visit, regardless of the physician’s specialty.
Check the physician’s website
A logical starting point is the website of your physician’s workers’ compensation clinic. Here you can read about your physician’s training and subspecialties. You may also see bios for nurses, nurse practitioners, and therapists who work at the practice. It’s important to find clinics that understand workers’ comp coverage in New York and the paperwork required for claims related to an injury or illness sustained at work.
Fill out the patient questionnaire
Every clinic has a new patient questionnaire, and many practices have moved this form online. While you are on the clinic website, see if the onboarding questionnaire is available. Some clinics allow submissions online, while others provide a PDF form to download and print out. Either way, you can handle this essential step in the quiet of your home instead of fumbling through the document in a clinic waiting room.
Provide your health status
The next step is to document your health status. Prepare a written list of the prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and vitamin supplements you take. Next, write down the highlights of your family’s health history. If your parents, grandparents or siblings have had strokes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, or dementia, make sure your physician knows about it. List any allergies to common pain medications like acetaminophen or Novocain.
Gather your health records
As you hit the home stretch of your preparation, gather any documents passed to you from a referring physician. If you have kept a diary of your physical injuries and symptoms since your accident, add that to your packet as well. Ascertain that you have your workers’ comp claim number ready and a government-issued ID card. Finish by taking a moment to congratulate yourself; your efforts have made you an active participant in your recovery.
Appointments With Workers’ Comp Doctors
On your appointment day, consider bringing a family member with you to the workers’ comp clinic. Doctor visits are inherently stressful, and a family member can handle the driving chores and provide another set of ears when your physician makes recommendations. Leave early for your appointment. Missing your appointed time might mean a long wait for another slot.
Check in at the front desk, and pass along the relevant documents you assembled in your packet. When you hear your name called in the waiting room, a clinic staff member will escort you to an examination room. Expect an interview with a nurse or nurse practitioner. Do not be surprised if the nurse asks you to flesh out the answers you provided on your questionnaire. Even though many of the questions may strike you as totally irrelevant to your injury, do your best to furnish a full answer. Building a complete picture of your health will help your physician map the best course of treatment.
Specialist Appointments for Work-Related Injuries
You have aced your preparation and learned the onboarding basics for a first-time visit. You are now ready to learn what specialists may do at your first appointment for medical treatment.
Among workers’ comp doctors, orthopedists rank high for work-related injuries referrals. Orthopedists specialize in musculoskeletal problems common in occupational injuries. Most orthopedists perform surgeries, but a visit to an orthopedist does not automatically mean you will face an operation. For an orthopedic appointment, wear clothing that will allow the doctor easy access to the injury site.
Expect the orthopedist to make an exceedingly detailed evaluation of your range of motion. If you can walk, your orthopedist may make a video of your gait.
If your orthopedist recommends surgery, you may wish to ask these questions.
- What happens without the surgery?
- How long will my recovery take?
- What type of anesthesia is appropriate?
- How long would the hospital stay be?
A physiatrist is the shorthand name for a physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) doctor. Like orthopedists, physiatrists specialize in musculoskeletal care. In place of surgery, a physiatrist’s clinical training emphasizes less invasive procedures and comprehensive rehabilitation strategies. Many physiatrists pursue a pain management subspecialty and can be fairly labeled pain doctors. At your first appointment, expect a physical exam and some X-rays. Your physiatrist will ask many detailed questions about your physical activity both on and off the job. If pain is an issue, you may receive a steroidal injection as an intervention measure before embarking on rehabilitation.
Neurologists treat the brain, spinal cord and human nervous system. A neurologist does not perform brain surgery; that delicate task falls to neurosurgeons.
Symptoms from common work-related injuries that justify a neurologist appointment include:
- Impaired motor function
- Muscle weakness
- Memory loss
- Numbness or tingling sensations
At your first neurologist appointment, expect an evaluation of your coordination, strength, speech, and mental acuity. With this appointment, it is particularly valuable for a close family member to accompany you. Diagnostic tests may not give a full picture of a brain or neural injury. A close family member can pinpoint post-accident changes and provide the neurologist valuable insight for a diagnosis.
If you suffered a head injury, a neurologist appointment at a workers comp clinic may involve a Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE). The MMSE is a relatively brief evaluation of memory, problem-solving skills and verbal ability. If a deficit shows up on the MMSE, the neurologist may order a more extensive test on a follow-up visit. A head injury may also prompt an electroencephalograph test. With an EEG, electrodes taped to the scalp provide a reading on your brain’s electrical activity. The results appear as the classic color-coded jagged horizontal lines on a monitor.
When muscle weakness is an issue, you may receive an electromyography (EMG) exam. With an EMG, a pair of fine electrodes are inserted into the suspect muscle. By timing the electrical impulse between the electrodes, your neurologist can determine whether your issue is centered in the muscle or with the associated nerves. If your neurologist suspects nerve dysfunction, you may receive a nerve conduction study (NCS). With an NCS, adhesive electrodes measure the electrical impulses near the injury site. Recording the time and intensity of the impulses can pinpoint a nerve lesion.
If a severe head injury induced your neurologist visit, the doctor may perform a lumbar puncture, a procedure formally called a spinal tap. A lumbar puncture draws a small amount of the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain. In the context of workplace injuries, this test can detect bleeding around the brain.
Another corps of professionals focused on musculoskeletal care, chiropractors use spinal manipulation to aid their patients’ recovery. This literal hands-on approach has won favor with many patients suffering repetitive stress injuries resulting from personal tasks and job duties.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common affliction often considered work-related that results from frequent repetition of the same task. As with other specialists, your first visit will feature a detailed interview. The questions may well involve your eating habits; many chiropractors believe sound nutrition is essential to tapping the body’s natural healing power.
X-rays will follow the interview, and then you will move to an exam by your chiropractor. The exam will test your reflexes and the range of motion in your joints. After the X-rays and exam, your chiropractor will either order a more extensive scan or move on to your first spinal manipulation, a procedure known as an adjustment. Chiropractors perform adjustments with their patients sitting upright or lying on a padded table. After the adjustment, your chiropractor will typically ask you to walk around and slowly execute some range of motion exercises before concluding the appointment.
Physical therapists (PTs) can be fairly called the frontline troops in the battle with work-related injuries. These movement professionals need at least three years of specialized training on top of a four-year bachelor’s degree to earn their state licenses. In your rehabilitation path, it is a good bet your therapist will have taken on additional training for an orthopedics subspecialty certification. Beyond their schooling and clinical experience, PTs cultivate first-rate people skills.
Physical therapists may work in a practice solely devoted to physical therapy, or they may pursue their calling in a workers’ comp clinic with orthopedists, physiatrists, or chiropractors. Wherever you encounter a PT, their mission is implementing a physician’s rehabilitation plan. A course of physical therapy typically lasts four to six weeks, and in most settings, you will work with the same PT every session. At your first therapy appointment, your PT will take the lead from the physician’s care plan and evaluate your range of motion. The session will likely end with your PT handing you a set of printed instructions for exercises to perform before your next therapy appointment.
Diagnostic Test Appointments
At any point in your recovery journey, you may need to schedule an appointment for a diagnostic test. Three frequently used scans provide images helpful to a wide number of specialists.
Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI) scans make efficient diagnostic tools for many typical work related injuries like sprains, fractures and back injuries. Living tissue gives off faint radio waves when surrounded by a strong magnetic field. An MRI machine can image these waves into virtual slices of the patient’s tissues and organs. Advanced MRI machines can assemble rotating three-dimensional images. A typical MRI scanner resembles a giant donut with a motorized platform where the patient lies.
While an MRI scan is completely painless, the machines are loud, and the staff may give you noise-canceling headphones with relaxing music. You will need to remain still for the duration of the scan, and with long imaging sessions, this can be a challenge. Because MRI scans use a strong magnetic field, no metal must be on your body. Metal in your body such as screws for bone fractures, hip replacements, stents, pacemakers, or shrapnel prohibits an MRI scan. Some MRI centers even recommend removing sunscreen and nail polish, owing to their metallic content.
Like MRI machines, computerized tomography (CT) scanners feature a motorized platform sliding through a large donut. As with MRI machines, CT scanners are noisy. Happily, you will not need to endure the noise for very long. CT scanners use X-rays to generate their images and complete a scan in much less time than an MRI. The radiation dose from a CT scan runs 50 times higher than a chest X-ray, so no physician will order this test lightly. With typical workplace injuries, MRI excels for bones and joints. Diagnosticians prefer CT scans for lung issues and brain trauma.
Musculoskeletal (MSK) Ultrasound
MSK ultrasound uses sound waves to build detailed images of muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. With MSK, a technician moves a gel-covered transducer on the patient’s skin over an injury site. The operator can view the images on a monitor in real-time, snapping pictures when necessary. During a session, the operator may ask the patient to move the area under study to create a detailed view of a joint’s function.
Even though MSK requires more training than traditional ultrasound, the technique continues to gain popularity among diagnosticians. MSK leapfrogs several drawbacks of other imaging techniques. Unlike CT scans, there are no X-rays with MSK. Similarly, MSK does not provoke claustrophobia like the giant MRI and CT scanners. Finally, MSK is safe for patients unable to undergo an MRI due to metal issues.
Your Physician Appointment Resource: Workers Comp Doctor
Before attending an appointment with a doctor, you must find the right physician. Streamlining that decision is the mission of Workers’ Comp Doctor. Serving the New York City and New Jersey area, we are the one-stop resource connecting patients with work-related injuries and workers’ comp doctors who understand the intricacies of occupational safety-related injuries.
We are constantly expanding our list of WCB-authorized providers, and our free search tool enables you to schedule your appointment within minutes. Take advantage of Workers’ Comp Doctor, the express lane on your road to effective care.