Doctors might turn you away after wreck

June 22, 2009 2:58:24 PM PDT
Nearly every one of us has been in a car wreck. But if you are hurt, did you know you might have trouble finding a doctor?

A car wreck is how Fran Jolly's New Year began. At 5:30am she was headed to work when she exited I-45 downtown at Dallas Street.

She was hit head on by a car coming the wrong way on the exit ramp. Everyone went to the hospital.

"I kinda looked at myself and the only thing that hurt was my wrist," she said.

Fortunately Fran only suffered a fractured wrist. The real pain came when she had to find an orthopedic surgeon.

"They said, 'Oh, we just don't do automobile accidents,'" she said while rolling her eyes. "I said, 'But you were referred by the emergency room.' And they told me, 'Our policy is we don't take people who have had an automobile accident.'"

This happened over and over.

"I am willing to pay cash, I could write a check, it doesn't matter and then I'll get reimbursed by my insurance company, and they said no," Fran said.

She had car insurance and health insurance, but no one would treat her.

"Three or four flatly refused to take me," she told us.

Dr. Sherwin Siff's Bone & Joint Clinic did take Fran, but she'd waited three days with a fractured arm.

"Many, many offices, ours is not among those, will not see anybody who was involved in an auto accident," Dr. Siff said.

Why? Dr. Siff says when crash patients walk in the office door, a lawyer might not be far behind.

It happened to him with a patient he says had a minor problem and at the last minute the lawyer wanted Dr. Siff in court.

"I had to cancel an office full of people who were having quite a bit of pain and distress to go down to the courthouse and discuss somebody who was better," he recalled.

Dr. David Pate, the CEO of St Luke's Episcopal Hospital, says it's not unethical for doctors to turn down a non-emergency patient they don't know.

"However, you always want to think doctors are there for anyone and everybody, but it's just not the realities of today," he said.

The reality is doctors may not get paid because of squabbling insurance companies.

"They will try to put it back to your health insurance carrier who will try to put it back to your automobile insurance coverage," said Dr. Siff.

Their staff can spend hours sending medical records to:

  • Your health insurer
  • Your auto insurer
  • The other driver's auto insurer
  • The other driver's health insurer
  • Lawyers for both drivers
  • A passenger's health insurer or lawyer
  • Law enforcement

"They want to be practicing medicine, not getting caught up with paperwork or caught up with the legal system," Dr. Pate said.

If there's litigation, it's even worse.

"Many doctors just shy away and don't want the hassle, and don't want the problem," said Dr. Siff. "And the real victim is the person who is injured."

Those with severe injuries don't have to worry: Hospital surgeons are there for them by law.

For minor injuries Pate suggests:

  1. Tell the doctor's office up front you were hurt in a motor vehicle accident.
  2. Call hospital physician referral lines for a list of their doctors who will treat motor vehicle accidents.
"It'll help keep down the amount of time and frustration," Dr. Pate said.

"Mine is just a broken wrist, I just feel sorry for someone who had anything worse happen to them," Fran said.


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