Be Your Own (Patient) Advocate

When people are injured through another’s negligence, often they are unsure what medical treatment is appropriate for their injuries, and they are sometimes discouraged from having those injuries properly evaluated and diagnosed.  A person who suffers knee pain after a motor vehicle collision, for example, may be told by health care providers that it will just take time to heal, that further testing isn’t needed, and to just rest.  But if the pain and lack of function persists, it is important to be assertive as a patient, and let the provider know that further treatment may be necessary.  A recent case handled by partner Michael Crowley of Janssen Malloy LLP illustrates the point.  Our client was injured in a head-on collision on Highway 36, and suffered a concussion and also had knee pain.  Although he was seen by an orthopedist regarding his complaints of knee pain, that doctor told him there was no need for an MRI diagnostically, and advised the client that he just should take it easy.  After six months of continued pain and lack of mobility, he was finally seen by another orthopedist, who ordered an MRI which showed traumatic tears to the meniscus and ligaments of the knee, which required surgery and physical therapy rehab for treatment.  The length of time from the collision trauma to the time of eventual diagnosis and surgery was then argued by the insurance carrier to constitute a “gap in treatment,” such that the medical causation of his injury from the motor vehicle collision was questioned.  Deposition testimony from the treating surgeon demonstrated that the collision was a substantial factor in causing the injury and need for surgery and physical therapy, but the gap in treatment issue mostly stemmed from the client just following the first physician’s advice, and not advocating for his own medical needs.
Defendants always look for any other explanation for a plaintiff’s injuries than the most obvious one, here a head-on collision on a winding, rural highway.  Often, primary care providers (family doctors) counsel rest and time for many injuries, with the patient not getting the diagnostic testing needed to clarify the extent of their injuries.  While many injuries will heal on their own, not all do.  It is appropriate for a patient to be their own advocate, to request that they be listened to and their symptoms taken seriously.  Most people have had the experience of waiting for a long time in a doctor’s office for an evaluation, then spending less than ten minutes with the health care provider, who may spend most of their time looking at a computer screen rather than listening to the patient.  It is important for the patient to be heard and acknowledged.  The attorneys at Janssen Malloy LLP are experienced in personal injury litigation, and can assist clients in assuring that they are heard and receive the treatment they need.