By Francis M. Smith
After any serious injury, one of the most important first steps your doctors will take is to order diagnostic tests to evaluate the nature and extent of your injuries. These diagnostic tests are also highly useful as proof when you were injured in an accident caused by someone else and seek damages for your injuries. The results of these diagnostic scans and medical tests can be used as evidence during settlement negotiations or at trial to prove how severe your injuries were and how necessary the medical treatment you received was. This can help ensure that you are compensated fairly for the harm that you suffered as a result of your accident.
The kinds of medical tests that your doctors will use to diagnose and document your injuries depend on the nature of the injuries you have suffered. Some tests are less invasive, more detailed, or reveal different types of information than others; understanding what the different medical tests you may undergo will entail not only makes the experience less stressful, but also enables you and your attorney to prepare your case more clearly and effectively.
X-rays are one of the more common diagnostic medical tests. They are not invasive – meaning they do not require anything to be inserted into the body or any cuts to be made. X-rays have been used for decades to diagnose a wide variety of medical issues. The high-frequency EM radiation used in these medical tests is blocked by dense tissue, such as bone; so x-rays are frequently used to evaluate bone fractures and the presence of foreign objects, but are less useful for soft tissue injuries.
Similar to an x-ray but much more detailed, a CT scan (often referred to as a CAT scan, short for computerized tomography) uses computer software to compile multiple x-ray images taken from different angles to create a 360 degree view of an injured area of the body. These scans are often useful if your doctor is concerned about injury to your internal organs, or if you have suffered multiple fractures to the small bones in your hand or foot.
Often used in conjunction with a CT scan, a PET scan (positron emission tomography) is able to see what the previous medical tests cannot: the soft tissues of your body in action. The patient is injected with a harmless dye that highlights the body’s tissues with radioactive tracers to make them more visible to the scanner, enabling doctors to get a three-dimensional view of the body’s metabolic activity. This enables the diagnosis of a variety of conditions affecting the soft tissues.
The MRI is another well-known diagnostic scan. Short for magnetic resonance imaging, it uses magnets to create an image of your body’s tissues. An MRI may be ordered if your doctor is concerned about possible brain or spinal cord injury. In some cases, a dye substance is used to make the tissues more visible; the patient may drink this, or receive an injection. The magnetic nature of these medical tests makes them unsuitable for patients with metalic implants or pacemakers.
Many people are familiar with ultrasound tests in the context of pregnancy, but this relatively inexpensive diagnostic scan may be used to assess a number of different injuries and conditions. It may be ideal for some patients or areas of the body because, unlike many other medical tests, the ultrasound does not use radiation. Instead, high-frequency sound waves are bounced off of the anatomical structures inside the body and used to construct an image, not unlike sonar or echolocation. These images are less detailed than some other medical tests, but the other advantages of ultrasound scans may make them the best choice for some injuries.
The diagnostic procedure that gives perhaps the most true-to-life image is the endoscopy. It entails a small camera and light, mounted on a flexible tube-like instrument, being inserted into an orifice of the body to enable doctors to see the internal structures. Though the procedure is most commonly used for diagnostic exams of the colon or stomach, it can be used anywhere with a natural bodily opening.
If your doctors are concerned that your injuries may include nerve damage, they may order a nerve conduction study. Your nerves naturally communicate via electrical impulses, and this form of study uses electricity to test nerve function. One electrode is placed at the suspected injury site and a second is placed further down. Doctors then measure how long it takes an electrical impulse to travel between the two.
An electromyograph (EMG) reveals how well your muscles respond to nerve impulses, and may be used in cases of persistent muscle weakness or nerve damage. An electrode or conductive needle inserted into the skin is used to measure the electrical activity within the affected muscle or nerve, allowing doctors to evaluate the natural current, and whether there is some compression of the nerve and compromise of the muscle responsiveness.
All of these tests not only help your doctor treat you appropriately - they also help your injury attorney represent you appropriately as well.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a serious accident, please contact me or call me at 908-233-5800 for a free consultation.