As per Iowa laws, if you suffer an injury on the job and pursue workers’ compensation benefits, you are limited in which doctors you can see. Your employer has the right to select your doctor for a work injury. If you elect to see your own doctor or any doctor your employer or its insurance company didn’t approve, workers’ compensation will not cover it.
Seeing a Specialist for a Work Injury in Iowa
In many cases, your injuries may be such that you require a specialist. If this is the case, you must get permission to see one prior to your appointment. Without a referral from your tending company physician or your employer, workers’ compensation won’t cover specialist visits.
Our firm primarily handles workers’ compensation cases for injured workers and their families across the state of Iowa. Doctor election and treatment from specialists are two common concerns our clients bring up. Below we review common types of injuries workers sustain that require treatment from medical specialists, and which types of specialists might be applicable.
Head Injury Specialists
When you sustain a head injury at work, you will need to be seen in an emergency room or at the primary care physician’s (PCP’s) office. Timeliness is the most important concern, as a head injury may result in a traumatic brain injury. Left untreated or undiagnosed, head injuries may be life-threatening.
The doctor will use a number of tools to initially evaluate your injury including computerized tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests. After you are stabilized, the doctor can get a clearer picture of the extent of your injury and refer you to a specialist (or several) for further treatment.
Below are some of the specialists you may have to see.
- Neurologist – a neurologist specializes in brain and nerve diseases and disorders. This specialist may conduct tests, such as an electroencephalogram (EEG), to assess the brain’s electrical activity, as well as running other diagnostic tests.
- Neurosurgeon – this surgeon specializes in brain and nerve surgery. A neurosurgeon may perform a procedure to help relieve pressure in the skull or to address other brain damage.
- Neuropsychologist – this is a psychologist with specialized training and education in understanding how a brain injury impacts personality and behavior. This doctor may conduct tests to evaluate the extent of damage as well as offer treatment plans to aid recovery.
- Occupational therapist – this specialist may evaluate how a brain injury has impacted your ability to complete normal daily activities, such as grooming and performing household chores. This person may also coordinate therapies to assist you in being able to return to work and home activities.
Muscle Injury Specialists
Muscle injuries are one of the most common types of workplace injuries, and they can be exceptionally slow to heal. Common types of occupational muscle injuries include bicep tears; grade I, II, and III sprains and strains; hyperextensions; rotator cuff strains and tears; hernias; and whiplash. If you’re suffering from a work-related muscle injury, it’s important to inform your supervisor immediately, and then seek medical treatment.
Below are some of the types of physicians you may have to see for a muscle injury.
- A sports medicine doctor
- A podiatrist (if the injury is below the knee)
- An orthopedic surgeon
Most commonly, the specialist who will handle muscle injuries is an orthopedist. Orthopedic doctors treat disorders and conditions of the parts of the body that allow for movement, including muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons. They can also examine, diagnose, and treat muscle injuries from trauma, such as in work-related accidents.
Specialists for Eye Injuries & Loss of Vision
Work-related eye injuries and loss of vision are a concern in certain industries, like construction, welding, and agriculture. A loss or decline of vision may be attributed to prolonged exposure to harmful working conditions, such as a welder’s daily exposure to UV radiation, or loss of vision may be caused by a singular traumatic event, such as an eye injury caused by flying debris or chemical burns.
Early diagnosis of vision loss or degradation is crucial for those with work-related eye injuries or damage. Your PCP may wish to first rule out certain medical conditions that can affect eyesight, such as diabetes, cataracts, and glaucoma. You may then be referred to one or more of the following specialists.
- Ophthalmologist – a medical doctor with training to diagnose and treat eye conditions and prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses. An ophthalmologist may also perform surgery on the eye.
- Optometrist – a healthcare professional who may perform eye examinations and other vision tests. An optometrist is not a medical doctor and is not licensed to perform surgery or other more advanced procedures.
- Optician – this technician will not diagnose or directly treat your ailment, but may be responsible for crafting specialized eyeglass lenses based on an ophthalmologist’s prescription.
- Low vision specialist – you may be referred to a low-vision specialist if corrective lenses, surgery, and other treatment options prove insufficient to address your vision loss. This healthcare professional will work with you to suggest tools and skills to maximize your remaining vision.
- Vision rehabilitation specialist – you may also work with a vision rehabilitation specialist who will help you develop strategies for completing everyday tasks with consideration to your level of vision.
Hearing Loss Specialists
Hearing loss is a significant concern for U.S. workers. In fact, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that, each year, 22 million workers are exposed to “potentially damaging noise” every year. Job-related hearing loss may come as the result of repetitive exposure to dangerous noise or because of a singular damaging event, such as an explosion.
Early diagnosis of job-related hearing loss can help you secure treatment for your condition. You may see several physicians or specialists in the course of your treatment, including the following.
- Otolaryngologist – an ear, nose and throat doctor.
- Otologist – a specialist who focuses on identifying and treating abnormalities of the ear.
- Audiologist – a licensed and registered specialist who focuses on treating hearing loss and preventing additional damage.
Respiratory Illness Specialists
A significant number of respiratory illnesses can be attributed to workplace conditions. For example, operators, fabricators, laborers are at risk for occupational asthma; construction workers are at risk for mesothelioma and asbestosis; mining machine operators are at risk for silicosis; and workers in textile manufacturers and cleaning industries are at risk for sick building syndrome.
Early detection and treatment of an occupational respiratory illness may help mitigate the effects of such an illness and prevent it from becoming fatal. Below are two types of specialists you may need to see for an occupational respiratory illness.
- Pulmonologist – this is pulmonary disease specialist who focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary (lung) conditions and diseases.
- Respiratory therapist – these professionals assess and treat issues that affect the cardiopulmonary system. Employees with conditions such as asthma, emphysema, pneumonia, cardiovascular disorders, and other lung trauma might be referred to one.
Specialists for Skin Conditions
Occupational skin conditions and diseases are relatively common, many of which arise from working conditions that expose an employee to allergens, toxins, irritants, chemicals, or excessive UV rays. Some of the industries that leave workers particularly vulnerable to occupational skin conditions include food production, construction, agriculture, manufacturing, landscaping, forestry, and welding.
A work-related skin condition may range from a relatively easy-to-treat rash to advanced skin cancer or severe scarring. Skin specialists you may need to see include the following.
- Dermatologist – a dermatologist specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the skin, hair, and nails. A dermatologist is qualified to treat skin conditions and may provide prescriptions or perform in-office or surgical procedures.
- Mohs surgeon – This surgeon is qualified to perform surgery to remove cancerous growths. This specialist may be necessary if an employee has acquired skin cancer after years of on-the-job exposure to the sun.
- Cosmetic dermatologist – This dermatologist has special training to address both a patient’s aesthetic and medical concerns. For instance, this specialist may be necessary in cases where a worker suffers scars or burns in an on-the-job accident.
- Dermatopathologist – This specialist focuses on the pathology of the skin. This medical doctor typically works in a laboratory where he or she analyzes samples of skin, hair, or nails for signs of disease.
Mental Disorder Specialists
A work-related accident or other traumatic incident can have effects measuring far beyond physical injuries. The magnitude of the accident or injuries can damage a person’s emotional equilibrium, as can work-related sexual or physical assaults. An injured worker may also suffer psychological and emotional repercussions, such as stress, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A number of medical doctors and other professionals are qualified to offer treatment for workers suffering from job-associated mental ailments and disorders, some of which include the following.
- Psychiatrist – This is a medical doctor focused on the practice of mental health care. He or she is qualified to diagnose mental health disorders and prescribe medications to treat everything from PTSD to anxiety. A psychiatrist may also provide talk therapy and other therapies as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.
- Psychologist – This professional can diagnose mental illness and offer treatment options that include one-on-one counseling or facilitation of a group therapy session. (Psychologists are not licensed to prescribe medications, because they hold a doctoral degree as opposed to a medical degree.)
- Licensed clinical social worker – This licensed professional doesn’t diagnose a mental illness or prescribe medication, but rather provide counseling services and work in partnership with other mental health professionals.
Specialists for Bone Injuries
Bone injuries such as fractures are not uncommon in the workplace. The severity of a fracture can range from a simple hairline break, to a compound fracture in which the bone protrudes from the skin.
It is important to seek medical attention in any situation where you suspect a work-related fracture. Compound fractures carry a high risk of infection and require emergency care. Even a simple hairline stress fracture can have substantial negative implications, as an untreated injury may result in chronic pain and disability.
After you receive an initial diagnosis, your physician may then refer you to one of the following types of specialists for additional treatment.
- Orthopedic physician/surgeon – A medical professional focused on the treatment of bones, joints, ligaments, nerves, and tendons. An orthopedic doctor has training to treat patients through surgical or non-surgical methods, and may provide emergency care.
- Occupational therapist – A professional who teaches recovering patients how to readapt to life after injury. For instance, an occupational therapist may teach you adaptive ways to bathe and feed yourself after hip surgery or how to brush your teeth if you are recovering from a broken arm.
- Physical therapist – A professional who works to improve an injured patient’s strength, flexibility, and coordination. You may regularly visit a physical therapist and learn exercises to perform at home, in efforts to assist proper healing.
Having trouble getting the care you need after a work injury?
If you have questions about workers’ compensation, or if you are having issues getting the medical care you need after a work injury, don’t hesitate to give us a call. Contact Walker, Billingsley & Bair in Des Moines today to schedule a free consultation with a workers’ compensation attorney: 888-436-9979.