Doctors and Other Medical Providers
If you have been seriously injured for the first time, you may be encountering types of doctors that you have never heard of before. The following are some of the medical specialists that personal injury victims are most likely to encounter.
An anesthesiologist administers drugs to provide pain relief during surgery. Some anesthesiologists also treat chronic pain. Anesthesiologists who treat pain are also sometimes called specialists in pain management.
A burn specialist is exactly what it sounds like — someone who cares for patients with severe burns.
A dermatologist handles diseases and injuries to the skin, including burns.
A doctor of emergency medicine usually works in an emergency room. This doctor may have been the first doctor to treat you after the accident.
The doctor you most likely see regularly is probably a family practice or general practice doctor. Depending on your injuries, he or she might take an active part in your care or refer you to a specialist.
A neurologist treats injuries and abnormalities of the nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. This is the doctor you will see if you have a brain or spinal injury. If you need surgery, you might also see a neurological surgeon or spinal surgeon.
An orthopedic doctor treats injuries to the bones, muscles and joints, sometimes including amputations as well as broken bones.
A doctor who treats problems with joints is a rheumatologist.
For accident victims, doctors of plastic surgery, reconstructive surgery or cosmetic surgery work to correct damage to the body or unsightly scars, and to restore functions or prevent loss of functions.
Physical therapists and doctors of physical medicine and rehabilitation work with injury victims to restore movement or function to areas affected by an injury. This sometimes includes functions that you might not think of as physical, like brushing your teeth or writing.
Psychiatrists handle mental health issues, including emotional injuries caused by accidents.
Specialists in other specific parts of the body include nephrologists (kidneys), hepatologists (liver), gastroenterologists (the digestive system), cardiologists (heart), pulmonary specialists (lungs) and podiatrists (feet and ankles).
If you sustained any sort of internal injury, including an injury to the spine, brain or internal organs, your doctor may ask you to take one of these special tests. This is good, because the more information you have about your injuries, the easier it will be to begin healing. This will also make it easier for your lawyer to prove your injuries. Tests you might take include:
X-rays are the radiation tests we are all familiar with; you have probably taken one at the dentist if you had your wisdom teeth removed. They show bony structures, so they are best for diagnosing bone injuries and cannot be used to diagnose soft tissue injuries.
A CT scan, sometimes known as a CAT scan, is short for “computerized tomography scan.” A CT scan uses multiple x-rays taken in a circle around the same point to build a better picture than one x-ray could provide alone, using a computer to combine them. A CT scan is likely to be ordered if the doctors believe you have an injury to the internal organs of your torso or abdomen, or multiple fractures to a hand or foot.
MRI is short for magnetic resonance imaging. If you get an MRI, the doctors will ask you to lie down in a large tube that uses harmless magnetic radiation to look at soft tissues of the body. Sometimes they will also ask you to drink or have an injection of a substance that makes those tissues easier to see. If your doctor suspects an injury to your brain or spinal cord, you might be asked to do this test. Because this technology uses magnets, you cannot use it if you have a pacemaker or other metal implanted in your body.
A PET scan is often used in tandem with a CT scan. In a PET scan, the patient is injected with a harmless substance that can be seen by the scanner using radioactivity. Unlike CT scans, PET scans can show your body’s metabolic activity rather than just structures of the body. The images they produce are also three-dimensional.
If you know anyone who has had a baby recently, you are probably familiar with an ultrasound. An ultrasound test uses high-frequency sound waves that bounce off internal structures of the body to build an image. The image it builds is not as detailed as images from other methods, but because it does not use radiation, it may be the best choice for people with certain conditions. It is also less expensive than an MRI. Doctors use it to look at internal organs, connective tissue, bones, blood vessels and eyes.
If your doctors believe you have a nerve injury, you may take a nerve conduction study, an electrical test that can detect problems with your nerves. In this test, one electrode is placed over the nerve being tested, while another is placed in a “downstream” area of the nervous system. The speed it takes for the electricity to travel between them determines whether there is nerve damage.
An electromyograph (EMG) shows muscles’ activity by measuring the electrical current they produce when they are in motion. This might be used for people with nerve damage, muscle weakness or the conditions that might cause them. In an EMG, doctors either insert a thin needle into the muscle being tested or place an electrode over the area, then measure the electrical impulses of the muscle.
An endoscopy uses a flexible tube with a light and a camera to look inside natural openings in your body, such as the throat. This is most commonly associated with tests on the stomach or colon, but can be used in any area with a natural opening.
If you are seriously injured, you may end up at a health care facility more specialized than the hospitals we are all used to. If you need this kind of care, you might even be transferred from your original hospital to one of these facilities:
A trauma center handles patients who have sustained a sudden and serious physical injury. They are ranked from Level I to Level IV, with the most serious cases at Level I facilities. Because they are expensive to run, they are not common; patients outside major cities may have to be airlifted to one.
A rehabilitation center is a facility where patients work to reestablish or relearn abilities they lost because of a serious injury, through therapy. Physical therapy helps with movement or prevents loss of movement, while occupational therapy might focus on relearning activities of daily life or finding ways to perform them despite a new disability.
Burn centers focus on patients with serious burns. They not only treat burn injuries, but work to help patients return to everyday life, often with therapists, social workers, psychiatrists and other professionals who are not conventional doctors.
Assisted living facilities may be appropriate for injury victims who need long-term physical or occupational therapy and help with everyday living. This might be true of someone with a severe brain injury or spinal damage. In addition to providing meals and housekeeping, as at a nursing home, the staff at an assisted living facility works with patients to help them regain independence and abilities. Some patients are able to return home eventually; others may need to remain in a facility throughout their lives.
Home care is an option for patients whose injuries do not require full-time hospitalization. A nurse or other health care professional might visit every day or a few times a week. Depending on the injuries, the professional might do anything from changing bandages to administering a treatment with an IV to helping with personal needs.