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Tips for finding a doctor, communicating with your doctor, and three things to avoid at all costs
The decision to see (or not see) a doctor following your accident will likely have a significant impact on any personal injury lawsuit or insurance claim you choose to file.
Although the importance of seeing a doctor after an accident is obvious when your injuries are significant, it’s just as important to see a doctor when your injuries seem insignificant.
In this article, we’ll explain why you should go to the doctor after an accident, and we’ll provide some tips for finding the right doctor and getting the most out of your appointment.
Should I go to the doctor after an accident?
You should always see a doctor after an accident, whether it’s a car accident, slip and fall accident, or any other type of accident. The sooner you’re able to see a doctor after an accident, the better.
Minor injuries can become major injuries over time. What’s more, the symptoms of some injuries don’t appear until days or even weeks after the injury. For example, some victims of traumatic brain injury (TBI) may not exhibit cognitive symptoms for weeks following the injury, even though a brain scan taken immediately after the accident would reveal the damage.
Obviously, your first motivation for seeing a doctor should be your own health. But if you plan to file a personal injury lawsuit or insurance claim, it’s imperative that you visit a doctor as soon as possible after your accident. There are four important reasons to see a doctor after an accident:
- To prevent the defendant or insurance company from claiming you weren’t injured. Defendants and insurance companies almost always argue that injured parties weren’t actually injured or at least weren’t injured as badly as they claim. Failing to see a doctor after your accident makes this argument a whole lot easier to make. What’s more, jurors are suspicious of plaintiffs who didn’t immediately go to a doctor after an accident.
- To prevent the defendant or insurance company from claiming something else caused your injury. Going to the doctor immediately after an accident helps to establish causation. The longer you wait to visit a doctor, the easier it is for an insurance company or defendant to argue that something else caused your accident. For example, if you injure your ankle in a car accident and wait 11 days before going to the doctor, how does the jury know you didn’t injure your ankle playing basketball during those 11 days?
- To create a record. If you make a claim for damages, you’re going to need to support that claim. The easiest way to do this is to provide a judge or insurance company with a hefty stack of medical records.
- Mitigation of damages. Under the law, injured parties must “mitigate” their damages. In short, this means plaintiffs must do everything possible to avoid making their injuries worse. If you fail to see a doctor after your accident (or fail to attend follow-up appointments), the opposing party can and will argue that you failed to mitigate your damages and therefore shouldn’t be awarded any damages (or at least shouldn’t be awarded as much).
How do I find the right doctor after an accident?
Finding the right doctor is a lot like finding the right lawyer. It’s important to choose a doctor who is competent but also one with whom you are comfortable. You want a doctor who:
- Treats you with respect,
- Listens to your concerns and opinions,
- Doesn’t rush through an appointment and encourages you to ask questions, and
- Explains things in a way you understand
One of the best ways to find a good doctor is to ask friends and family members for a recommendation. If you have a doctor that you like but need a different kind of doctor, consider asking the doctor for a recommendation.
If your friends and family members can’t provide a recommendation, consider using a site like HealthGrades, which includes reviews of doctors and helpful search filters. It’s also important to find a doctor who takes your insurance. Most health insurance companies have an online tool you can use to find a doctor who accepts your health insurance. If you can’t locate this tool, call your insurance company.
Once you’ve found a couple of doctors who might be a good match, call their offices armed with a list of revealing questions. Here are some questions you might consider asking:
- Is the doctor taking new patients?
- Does the doctor accept my health insurance?
- Is the doctor part of a group practice? If so, who are the other doctors that might help care for me?
- Which hospital does the doctor use?
- Does the doctor have experience treating my medical conditions?
- Does the doctor have special training or certifications?
- Are evening or weekend appointments available? What about virtual appointments over the phone or on a computer (telemedicine)?
- What is the cancellation policy?
- How long will it take to get an appointment?
- Can I get lab work and x-rays done in the office?
- Is there a doctor or nurse who speaks my preferred language?
What if I can’t afford a doctor?
You may be reluctant to visit a doctor due to the high cost of medical care. This is certainly understandable, as you might not have insurance or you might be worried you’re going to lose wages due to missed time at work.
Don’t let high healthcare costs keep you from receiving the treatment you need. Here are some options that exist for people who think they can’t afford to go to the doctor:
- Private health insurance or government benefits. Almost 92 percent of people in the United States have health insurance, according to the United States Census Bureau. If you can’t afford health insurance, you may qualify for coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
- Payment plans and sliding scales. Most hospitals will allow you to make monthly payments if you can’t afford to pay for care all at once. Some doctors allow patients to pay on a “sliding scale.” A sliding fee scale is a payment model that allows qualifying patients to pay what they can reasonably afford.
- Letter of protection. A letter of protection is a contract created between a patient and their doctor. The contract promises that the patient will pay the medical expenses after their injury claim is settled. In exchange, the provider will not attempt to collect the debt.
- Free clinics. There are thousands of free or reduced-cost health clinics in the United States. The National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics offers an online tool to help you find a clinic near you.
What should you tell your doctor after an accident?
Going to see a doctor after an accident is a terrific first step. But to get the most out of your doctor’s visit, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.
First, be sure to tell your doctor what happened. Your doctor will take notes during your visit, and these notes will be viewed by the insurance company if you file a claim or the defendant if you file a personal injury lawsuit. It’s important that the notes reflect the fact that you sought medical care because of your accident.
When your doctor asks you for details about your accident, don’t guess or speculate. You don’t want to put yourself in a situation in which your estimates are used against you down the road.
Second, tell your doctor about your complete health history. Providing incomplete information can reduce the quality of care you receive. What’s more, concealing prior injuries or illnesses from your doctor may hurt your legal case, as jurors will view you as untrustworthy.
Finally, tell your doctor about all of your pains and day-to-day limitations. Insurers and jurors won’t believe you’re in pain just because you tell them you’re in pain. Insurers and jurors want to see evidence (medical records) that you were experiencing pain before you filed a lawsuit.
Three mistakes people make after they see a doctor for their personal injury
Congratulations! You went to the doctor after your accident and told them everything you needed to tell them. So far, you’ve done everything right. Unfortunately, there are three mistakes you can still make:
- Not documenting everything. It’s important to document everything in order to maximize the amount of damages you receive following an accident. Enjuris has some tools that can help:
Medication Log Sheet
Printable daily medication log template helps you track your medicines and side effects
Download in PDF format
Post-Accident Journal Form
Sample accident journal/diary to help you document the effect on your daily life
Download in PDF format
Damages worksheet to track expenses for your injury claim (medical treatment, property damage, lost wages, prescriptions)
Download in PDF format
- Posting about the injury on social media. When you file an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit, one of the first things the insurance company or defense attorney will do is search your social media accounts for any posts that could be harmful or incriminating to your case. Avoid posting about your injury on social media, even if you think the post is harmless.
- Failing to attend follow-up appointments. All states require that plaintiffs mitigate their damages. This means you need to take steps to avoid making your injuries worse. If you fail to take all prescribed medication or fail to attend follow-up appointments, your settlement amount may be reduced.
Most people don’t like to go to the doctor. But if you want to recover the damages you deserve following an accident, going to the doctor is essential.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.