One of the more common questions immediately following a car accident, is “should I go to the hospital, an orthopedic surgeon or a chiropractor for my injuries?”
Although there is no “one-size fits all” answer to this question, it is important to determine WHY exactly you feel like you should go to the hospital vs a chiropractor and the type(s) of injuries you are now suffering from.
When in doubt – go to the hospital!
You should not play around with your health…ever. Your body is not designed to absorb the impact of a car accident.
A car accident – even at “low impact” – can wreak havoc on your body. Rear-end and side-swipe crashes oftentimes lead to lower neck and back injuries. Sometimes these crashes eventually require surgical intervention.
Of note, air bags rarely, if ever, deploy if you are hit in the rear; internal injuries are oftentimes hard to diagnose.
Who pays my medical bills?
In Florida, every vehicle owner and driver on the road is required to have $10,000.00 in Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage.
PIP benefits are paid by YOUR own insurance company – regardless of whether someone else was at fault. Your PIP benefits pay for 80% of your medical bills up to $10,000.00. You may also be covered by someone else’s PIP benefits if you do not own a vehicle.
The hospital SHOULD ask if you were involved in a car accident; indicate YES.
If you go to the hospital, make sure they have your auto insurance information on file. The hospital should know that your PIP coverage is primary.
If you have health insurance, this will be billed secondarily.
If you do not have available PIP benefits (i.e. injured on a motorcycle) or health insurance, you still may be able to receive medical treatment through a letter of protection.
Please understand that hospital stays (even brief stays) are expensive. In many cases, going to the hospital could “eat up” a majority of your PIP benefits.
This should not dissuade you from seeking medical treatment at the hospital, but it is something you should be aware of.
Knowing the purpose of the hospital and the types of injuries they treat can help in your decision.
What is the purpose of the hospital?
The hospital is a triage unit which diagnoses and treats patients with (potentially) severe injuries.
Although soft-tissue injuries can be very severe, the hospital is (typically) not the best place for the diagnosis of such injuries as the hospital rarely, if ever, will have you present for an MRI (which diagnoses soft tissue injuries).
The hospital will usually take x-rays of your spine, which assesses bone injuries only (i.e. fractures) and not soft tissue injuries.
Even if you don’t have a fracture, you could have suffered a very significant injury as a result of this crash.
ER doctors are sometimes dismissive of soft-tissue injuries and will give you a “clean bill of health” or simply refer you to an orthopedic surgeon.
Remember, the emergency room is a triage unit; they want to simply pass you on to another doctor at a later point in time whenever possible.
That being said, if you are suffering from any of the following, you should strongly consider going to the hospital immediately.
Any head / brain related injury – If you are exhibiting one or more of the following:
- Loss of consciousness
- Severe headaches
- Poor balance
- Mental confusion
- Sleep disturbances
- Ringing in ears
- Sensitivity to light
- Loss of coordination
- Weakness/numbness in fingers or toes
- Slurred speech
- Confusion, you may have suffered from a closed head injury / traumatic brain injury.
Of note, you may have a brain injury (coup-contrecoup injury) even if your head does not strike a stationary object (like a steering wheel).
Any trouble breathing
- Lung pain
Any (potentially) broken bones
Any (potentially) torn ligaments
Anything that requires stitches
If you do go to the hospital, remember to tell them about ALL your injuries, not just the primary injuries.
If not the hospital, then where should I go for treatment following a car crash?
Regardless of whether you admit yourself to the hospital, you should seek medical treatment ASAP – at least within the first 72 hours.
Whether you see a chiropractor, physical therapist, pain management doctor, orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon, do not just “hope” that your injuries will magically go away.
You paid for PIP benefits – use them. At a minimum going to the doctor gives you piece of mind that something isn’t terribly wrong and memorializes that you were in fact injured from this car accident.
Chiropractors are very good at diagnosing soft tissue injuries (such as disc issues in your neck and back).
Chiropractors are accessible; you can normally get into a chiropractor the day following a car accident. That is why a majority of people in car accidents initially treat with chiropractors.
You can always treat with a specialist (i.e. orthopedic surgeon) down the road. If for whatever reason you do not want to treat with a chiropractor or physical therapist, an orthopedic surgeon would be the next best option.
Understand that orthopedic surgeons will almost always, however, send you back to a chiropractor or physical therapist and have you present for MRIs before making a follow up appointment and/or recommendation for more invasive treatment.
Which is the best doctor for my case?
There are pros/cons to treating at the hospital as opposed to a chiropractor or orthopedic surgeon. As long as you treat with a doctor soon after the crash your case should not be negatively affected.
The longer you wait to go to the doctor, however, the more likely the at-fault insurance company will claim that you are not injured from the crash as “if you were REALLY injured, you would have immediately received treatment” (there words, not mine).
Unfortunately, the “delay in treatment argument” can be persuasive to a jury at trial. By receiving treatment soon after the crash, you eliminate this argument.
If you have any questions regarding treatment following a car accident, please call one of our experienced trial attorneys for a free consultation.