In many fields of work, if you are injured on the job, your employer will send you to their occupational clinic. Often times, the occupational clinic does not have your best interests in mind. For example, here is a scenario: You work in construction, mostly at job sites in Cook County, Illinois. It’s a hot summer day in Chicago, and you and your co-workers have been working long hours lifting heavy concrete. You injure your back at work while lifting a brick of concrete. You try to work through the pain for an hour, but it becomes more painful with each passing minute, and you begin to feel a numbness and tingling shooting down your spine and into one of your legs. You know something is seriously wrong, but you work until you literally cannot work any more, because you are a hard worker, and you had hoped that the pain would just go away. You finally report the injury to your supervisor, and then your supervisor tells you to go to a certain occupational medical clinic.
Like many people, when you go to the clinic and see health care workers, you assume that the doctors and nurses there are committed to doing everything they can to help you. Sadly, this assumption is usually very far from the truth, as I am about to explain. At the clinic, they send you to get an x-ray of your spine and/or neck area. A doctor reads the x-ray, and then, no matter how severe your symptoms may be, the doctor attempts to persuade you that you only have a “back sprain” or “back strain,” then prescribes you some strong pain medication, and writes you off work or under work restrictions for a few days.
The example situation I described above happens all the time. The sad reality is that this occupational clinic and doctor are gatekeepers for the workers’ compensation insurance company. For these doctors, their jobs depend upon them containing costs and minimizing the medical care of every injured worker that walks into their occupational clinic. Many injuries—especially soft tissue injuries, such as those that occur in the spine and neck—require more extensive testing, such as MRI’s or CT scans, to obtain a proper diagnosis of a work injury, not to mention a referral to a spine specialist with proper qualifications to diagnose the injury and outline a proper plan of care. Any doctor who completed medical school should know this protocol, but in the situation of occupational clinic doctors, they seem to ignore this knowledge, and work very hard to contain the costs of medical care, no matter how severe the impact this has on injured workers.