Medical Care After a Car Accident: Finding A Doctor and Paying For Treatment
You’ve been injured in a car accident.
But figuring out how and where to find the best doctor in the best medical care facility can seem daunting and worrying.
And the incoming barrage of medical bills threatens to rub salt in your wounds.
Nevertheless, getting medical treatment as soon as possible is crucial — not only for your short- and long-term health, but also for getting fair compensation from the auto insurers in your personal injury settlement.
The most common questions people ask after an accident are as follows:
- What is the appropriate medical treatment after my car accident?
- Who should be paying for my medical treatment?
- Can I use my health insurance?
- If I don’t have health insurance, can I still get treatment?
We hope you find this article helpful for finding high quality medical care, paying for your treatment without clearing out your savings account, and dealing with medical insurance.
Medical Treatment After A Car Accident
If, after an auto accident, you are experiencing the following symptoms:
- Muscle tightness
You should see a health care provider as soon as possible. Even if you think you’re fine, get checked by a doctor as soon as you can.
Insurance companies generally assume that you were not really hurt if you do not seek immediate medical attention.
As such, even if you feel the slightest pain or discomfort, it is best to seek immediate medical attention. Even a low-speed accident can have potentially serious injuries. Furthermore, the symptoms may not surface immediately.
The following describes four medical care providers you may see after an auto accident.
Emergency Room (ER)
You should contact the police after every auto accident not only to get a police report, but also to get medical attention, if necessary.
Depending on the severity of the accident, the police officer may call an ambulance to take you to the emergency department of a hospital.
Emergency rooms are the best place for treating severe and life-threatening conditions. They’re open 24 hours, seven days a week and offer specialized care and diagnostic tests.
Due to the comprehensive nature of the ER, there is often a long wait to see a doctor. ER service can also be quite expensive. Depending on your degree of injury, you may opt for an urgent care clinic.
Urgent Care Center
If you have chosen to not use emergency hospital treatment, an urgent care clinic is a great place to begin your treatment after an auto accident.
An urgent care center is a walk-in clinic that treats conditions serious enough to require immediate care, but not serious enough to require an ER visit.
Patients often use urgent care centers when they are unable to see their primary doctor in a timely manner. Urgent care centers attend to acute medical problems of low severity. They are normally open after normal business hours, including evenings and weekends. Many offer on-site diagnostic tests such as CT scans.
Unlike emergency departments, however, urgent care centers do not service patients in need of immediate laboratory testing, advanced imaging, urgent surgery or extended stays.
Since urgent care centers are focused on providing patients with simple evaluations and office-based treatments, you will most likely save time and money by going to an urgent care clinic instead of an emergency room.
If you are not suffering from a severe or life-threatening injury, you should contact your primary physician to make an urgent appointment after an auto accident.
Your primary doctor knows your personal health history more than any other doctor. He knows whether you have any underlying conditions you may have and will be able to perform a comprehensive physical. He is the best and most informed doctor to recommend treatment and necessary tests, if they are necessary.
Even if you have to go to the ER or urgent care center after the accident, you should make an appointment with your primary care physician for a follow-up visit.
A specialist is a doctor who focuses on one aspect of a person’s health, like one organ or body part. For example, if you need hip surgery, you need a doctor who specializes in hip surgeries.
In addition to medical school, a specialist will have completed a multiple year residency in a specific medical specialty. After completing training, the doctor will take an examination to become medical board-certified in the specialty.
As such, a primary doctor will likely refer his patient to a specialist who can offer an expert opinion on the initial diagnosis.
If, for example, you are suffering from severe back pain, your primary doctor will refer you to an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in back injuries.
Similarly, if you are suffering from prolonged and severe headaches, your primary doctor will refer you to a neurologist who specializes in brain injuries or ailments.
By seeing a specialist, you get a specific and customized treatment plan to heal your injuries. This also boosts the value of your claim because it shows you went through the proper channels to get this medical treatment: 1) seeing your primary care doctor first, 2) getting a referral and then 3) seeing a specialist for an evaluation — in that order.
A car accident can cause severe injuries by way of force and hard impact. Even if you may feel fine at the accident scene, you may have an internal injury that will only manifest itself later. For that reason, it is important to get an MRI or use a good diagnostic tool to investigate the fullest extent of your injuries.
As a diagnostic tool, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is safer and more informative than using X-rays or CT scans, and are widely accepted by insurance companies as reliable, accurate and objective evidence of injuries.
In other words, the MRI is the “gold standard” of evidence of injuries in a personal injury claim.
If you have been treated for an injury, but the pain continues and isn’t getting better, your doctor may order an MRI to investigate what’s going on. You may have a soft tissue injury that takes a long time to heal under an entirely new treatment plan with new medical costs.
An MRI after an auto accident does three things:
- Resolves fine detail of your injuries, including bones, joints and soft tissues.
- Helps your doctors confirm their diagnoses and customize a treatment plan for you.
- Increases the full value of your case due to higher medical costs.
Without a doubt, you’d be asking “how am I going to pay for all that?” With sky-high healthcare costs, which aren’t coming down anytime soon, you need acceptable options to pay for your treatment without destroying your own finances.
Paying for Medical Treatment After A Car Accident
Medical bills — and how to pay them — is often on the forefront of people’s minds after an accident. Beyond the physical injuries, the greatest harm to auto accident victims is suffering financial injuries. This section aims to mitigate these financial injuries in the aftermath of your auto accident.
Check If Your Doctor Accepts Your Insurance
When selecting a doctor, be sure to check your health insurance plan and see if your doctor’s office accepts your insurance.
You can search online and visit your doctor’s website to see which insurance companies they work with. Or you can give them a quick call and ask whether they accept your insurance.
Who Should Be Paying For My Medical Treatment After a Car Accident?
The at-fault driver and their insurer is responsible for all of the damages they have caused. That does include medical treatment — along with ambulance, EMT and hospital costs.
However, there is good and bad news.
The bad news is they will not pay as you receive treatment. They will pay when your treatment is complete — after they have fully evaluated your medical treatment. Your medical bills will accumulate over the course of your treatment, and some doctors or hospitals will not treat you unless you pay these bills. That puts you in a tight dilemma.
The good news is you do have a few options on how to handle this:
- Use your health insurance to pay for treatment
- Agree to a medical lien and receive treatment
- Use both health insurance and medical liens
Many people after a car accident are unsure if they can use their own health insurance. They fear that by paying for their own care, they may harm their claim, or they simply feel it is “unfair” to use their own insurance.
Be assured in many instances, using your health insurance is the best bet.
However, there can be some issues:
One issue is you may not be able to afford co-pays at the hospital or urgent care center because they can be quite expensive for emergency services.
Another issue may arise when your primary care physician sends you to physical therapy or chiropractic care, the multiple treatments with multiple co-pays and deductibles can really add up over time.
Medical Treatment After an Auto Accident on a Lien
The alternative to using your insurance and paying for your deductibles is to request a medical lien on your treatment. This means that your treating medical provider will begin treatment, but wait for the payment. Choosing this option will not affect your credit.
Using this option does not come without some of its own costs at the time of settlement, however.
This is where your lawyer can assist you in referring you to a medical provider that will suit your financial and medical needs. However, this does come with it’s own host of potential problems. It might surprise you, but defense lawyers salivate over attorney referrals to medical providers. Attorney referrals are even a factor in the pre-litigation “evaluation” systems used by insurers.
Defense lawyers argue if a car accident victim goes to an attorney and gets a doctor referral, the injured person’s care is suspect or “attorney-driven” — regardless of any other facts or even whether or not they really believe it to be accurate. Regrettably, juries eat this up even though it is exceedingly common. In my experience, I have never seen or heard of an attorney who meddles with a client’s medical care other than to simply make a referral for the client’s convenience or at the client’s request.
This is why we prefer that our clients attempt to find their own medical providers without our firm’s assistance. Ideally, you have a primary care physician who makes all of your medical referrals.
Should I Use My Health Insurance?
Yes, you should use your own health insurance rather than pay out of pocket or wait for a settlement. Using your health insurance to get immediate treatment after an accident will not hurt your claim in the end, nor is it “unfair” that your health insurance pays for your treatment.
Treatment after an accident cost a lot of money in our healthcare system, so you may be concerned about high deductibles or high co-insurance payments. Most health insurance coverage do not kick in until you pay your deductibles and co-pays in full.
Fortunately, there is an option other than paying your deductibles out of pocket. If you have medical payments coverage with your auto insurance provider, you can use it to cover your deductibles until your primary health insurance coverage kicks in.
Medical Payments Insurance
Medical payment policies cover medical expenses for you, your passengers and any family members involved in the accident, regardless of which driver was at fault. This policy also covers injuries to you or a family member as a pedestrian, a bicyclist, or a passenger in someone else’s vehicle.
Additionally, medical payments insurance may help pay for:
- Funeral expenses
- Injuries sustained by your passengers
- Injuries you sustain as a pedestrian or bicyclist when a car hits you
- Necessary dental care as a result of a car accident
In many cases, it can be great idea to add a medical payment policy even while you already have health insurance. The main benefit of a medical payments policy is it would cover your co-pays and deductibles.
Perhaps more importantly, it will cover your passengers — whom your health insurance generally will not cover unless they are family members listed on your health insurance plan.
Unlike many health insurance policies, medical payment insurance does not require co-pays. It is also independent of the limits of your health insurance coverage. That is, if you exceed the limits on your health insurance coverage, your medical payments policy will still cover these overages.
For more information about medical payments coverage, go to this page.
I Don’t Have Health Insurance. Can I Still Get Treatment?
Yes, you should still get treatment.
You may be able to find a doctor or other health care provider who is willing to defer payment until after you receive compensation for your injury. Discuss this with your doctor or their front office staff at the beginning of your treatment. If they agree, they’ll probably will advise you that they’ll be recording a medical lien in order to ensure their payment from the insurance company.
Unfortunately, the world is not ideal. In instances when life does not line up and you either can’t use your health insurance, don’t have health insurance, do not have a primary care physician or simply can’t see your doctor for weeks — we do have a solution that will meet your medical needs.
There are always situations where a client simply needs medical treatment without the means to pay for it. In such cases, a medical lien is a viable option.
However, if your medical lien becomes an issue in your claim because of an “attorney-driven” referral, we can and do address that issue. We simply explain the referral and discuss the arm’s-length relationship with the medical provider. This way neither the adjuster nor the jury is left to wonder why the attorney made a referral or whether there is a “special relationship” with the attorney and the medical provider.
Taking Time Off Work During Recovery
It is important, not only for your health, but also for your claim, to take the necessary time off work while you recover from your injuries. Don’t try to tough it out through the pain.
If you can’t take time off of work, talk to your employer about your injuries and give them a doctor’s note indicating when you can go back to work.
The danger in toughing it out is if you don’t take time off work, even though you may lose pay or even your job, you can hurt your ability to recover an appropriate settlement for your injuries. If insurance companies see that you’re back at your job after an accident, they may think you don’t need medical treatment and therefore refuse to pay what you’re entitled to.
Documentation of your injuries is how an insurance company evaluates your claim and determines whether it will pay your claim.
This includes the following:
- Records of medical treatments
- Medical bills
- Records of time lost from work due
Without medical bills or other specific losses, your claim for bodily injury is minimal.
The below section goes into more detail on how to get fairly compensated for your medical expenses at your settlement.
Preparing Treatment Records For Your Settlement
As you undergo treatment, there are some extra steps you can take to prepare for your settlement. While you are recover, your medical bills will be piling up and your health insurance company will be paying through the nose to get you treated.
You want to be compensated for all of these expenses, as well as time you missed work due to your injuries.
Keep All Receipts For All Medical Expenses Including Co-pays
It is absolutely essential to retain all copies of all bills, receipts, explanation of benefit statements from your health insurance provider, doctor’s notes, etc… that is, every piece of paper you receive from your doctor or hospital.
Plus, if you have a medical payments insurance policy, it will cover your co-pays and deductibles. Keep copies of those documents as well.
If you’ve spent money on any of the following:
- Deductibles (before health insurance coverage kicks in)
- Co-pays or coinsurance
- Doctor appointments, hospital stays, or emergency room visits
- Transportation to and from doctor appointments
- X-Rays, lab tests, CT scans, MRI or other diagnostic services
- Assistive devices such as wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs and crutches
- Major procedures such as surgery, restorative dental care
- Ongoing treatments such as physical therapy or chiropractic care
These documents will be used to strengthen and increase the value of your claim. This will also ensure your medical treatment gets paid for with minimal expense from your own wallet.
Ask Your Doctor If You Need Surgery Before You Settle
A settlement with an insurance company is intended to settle all of your claims, even those that have yet to manifest themselves.
If your doctor tells you that after a cautious course of medical treatment, you might need surgery, find out what the cost would be for such a procedure before you settle.
Chronic Injuries: Future Care and Costs
A chronic injury is an injury that will need continued care in the future. A few examples of chronic injuries are bulging or herniated discs, an ACL or meniscus tear, or rotator cuff injuries on the shoulder. Discuss with your treating physician what costs you may incur in the future for your medical treatment, and consider these extra costs as part of your settlement.
Be sure to get all this information for your settlement. Your treating physician can provide you information about whether you will need treatment in the future. If you do, make sure you receive some form of documentation on the doctor’s letterhead that outlines your need for future care.
What About Pre-Existing Injuries From a Prior Accident?
These may or may not be relevant depending on how long ago the prior accident occurred, and whether you have injured yourself the same way that you did in the previous accident. Looking at your past medical records will help with establishing what is new in your current car accident claim.
A vehicle accident can make a pre-existing medical condition worse, and you can be compensated for this worsened condition. You should seek treatment for a worsened condition, just as you should for a new injury. It’s possible that your old injuries may be aggravated or worsened by the new accident, indicating the need for a new course of treatment or even surgery. With your doctor’s recommendations, this should be factored into your claim.
Find a Doctor or Hospital In Your Area
Fortunately for us residents in Phoenix, we have access to world-class medical centers and state-of-the-art hospitals.
Below is a list of top-rated hospitals in Phoenix:
5777 East Mayo Boulevard
Phoenix, AZ 85054-4502
1111 East McDowell Road
Phoenix, AZ 85006-2666
350 West Thomas Road
Phoenix, AZ 85013-4496
9201 West Thomas Road
Phoenix, AZ 85037-3332
You can also find a local doctor close to your home to attend to your treatment and medical care. Click on the town nearest you and scroll down to the list of doctors in your neighborhood: