You've been hurt at work. The good news is that the workers' compensation insurer is paying your money benefits and also paying for your medical treatment. So, you don't have to worry about those things.
Fortunately or unfortunately, you have seen a surgeon and she has offered surgery to treat your work injury. Now you have to decide whether to have the surgery.
I always tell my clients that a decision to have any kind of medical treatment has to be between the worker, her doctor, and her family. However, I also ask them to consider the following things in making their decision:
- What is the likelihood of a good outcome? Doctors, including surgeons, are often optimistic about outcomes when offering treatment including surgery. However, the patient must test that optimism and do her best to convince the doctor to also describe the risks of surgery as well the chances of a bad outcome.
- How long will the recovery be? Once again, doctors tend to be optimistic about recoveries. If the doctor says three months, I would recommend doubling that just to be safe. If the doctor will tell you the worst case scenario for a recovery that can be helpful in making your decision. If the worst case scenario is twelve months, is that a time period you're willing to endure?
- How healthy are you? If you are in good health despite your work injuries, then your chances of a good outcome and a shorter recovery may be greater. If you are not in good health and/or have a serious pre-existing condition, then you may not be a great surgical candidate.
- Have you gotten a second opinion? If the workers' compensation insurer will agree to pay for a second opinion, especially regarding surgery, I usually recommend that my clients to get it. A second opinion can be very helpful if it confirms the original offer of surgery. It is less helpful if the opinion disagrees with the offer of surgery because then it makes the decision much more difficult and may require a third opinion. In some cases, a second opinion may offer another option that may be a better match for the worker.
- If you decide to postpone surgery, in most cases you can get it at a later date. Most workers think that if they reject medical treatment, that's a final decision. It usually isn't, even for surgery. The exception would be if there's a subsequent incident, such as a non-work related car accident, that the same surgery could treat. Having said that it is generally not a mistake to postpone surgery, unless not having the surgery would definitely result in permanent injury.
- Sometimes injuries get better on their own with time.
- Surgery can sometimes worsen injuries.
Having surgery is never an easy decision. However, if you keep these things in mind and have good communication with your doctor, you can usually make the right decision.
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