Getting Cooperation From Your Doctor for Your Disability Case
If your doctor is reluctant to help, find out why and address his or her concerns.
After you apply for Social Security disability, you will need to submit a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment that has been prepared by one of your doctors (unless you qualify for automatic approval under an impairment listing or compassionate allowance). An RFC is a detailed report that discusses the limitations you have because of your condition, and how the limitations affect your ability to do certain work-related activities. (You can also learn more about the importance of RFCs here.)
Unfortunately, some doctors are unwilling to help their patients by completing an RFC form; this can make it difficult for a claimant (applicant) to be approved. However, you may be able to convince your doctor to help you, depending on the reason for his or her reluctance.
Why Won’t My Doctor Help Me?
There are many reasons why doctors won’t help claimants by filling out RFC forms. Here are some examples of common reasons doctors won’t help their patient with disability forms.
Unclear expectations. Frequently doctors don’t understand exactly what is expected of them. They may think the forms you need to have filled out will be lengthy and complicated.
Because disability claims often end up at the hearing level, some doctors may worry that they will be called to testify on your behalf or otherwise caught up in lengthy litigation.
Some doctors are concerned that their reputations could be adversely affected if Social Security disagrees with their opinion.
Personal opinions. Not everyone agrees with the federal disability program. This means that some doctors may not help you because they do not want to “support” what they perceive as an entitlement program. In these cases, the physician may feel reluctant to label you as “disabled,” knowing that it may result in an approval of benefits.
Medical opinions about your disability. Sometimes doctors will not complete RFCs because they don't think the claimant is disabled. In these cases, sometimes a physician will complete the form but state that the individual has no limitations in his or her ability to work.
Lack of time. Other doctors are simply busy and think that filling out forms for you will take up too much time.
Money. Some doctors will complete the forms only if they are paid for their time. Most doctors who charge for this ask for a reasonable fee for filling out an RFC form.
What Can I Do If My Doctor Won’t Help?
The solution to an unhelpful doctor depends on the reason he or she won’t help you.
Unclear expectations. If you doctor doesn’t fully understand what is expected of him or her, you should ask your attorney, if you have one, to contact the doctor’s office to explain. If you do not have an attorney, you should reassure the doctor that once the form is completed and given to Social Security, the doctor’s involvement ends (unless he or she wants to testify for you at your hearing, which is rare). You should also tell your doctor that his or her opinion on your disability will in no way impact his or her license or practice.
If your doctor doesn’t want to help because he or she thinks the process is too time consuming, show the doctor an RFC form. RFC forms are usually only two or three pages long and only require the doctor to check mark certain boxes about your disability. They can generally be completed during a normal appointment, as long as the doctor is well familiar with your condition.
Personal opinion. If you doctor doesn’t want to complete disability forms because he or she disagrees with the Social Security's disability program, it may be hard to convince him or her to cooperate. In these cases you can ask the doctor to simply check mark the boxes that reflect his or her opinion about any limitations, without making a statement about your disability.
It can also be helpful to tell your doctor if you are applying for SSDI as opposed to SSI. This is because SSDI benefits are based on your work history, and you have paid taxes into the system for as long as you have worked, as opposed to SSI, which is need-based.
If your doctor continues to refuse to help you, you may have to consider seeing another doctor.
Medical opinions about your disability. Unfortunately, if your doctor won’t fill out any forms because he or she thinks you are not disabled by your condition, it may be difficult to convince him or her to complete an RFC for you. If your doctor feels you can work, try to determine the doctor's basis for the opinion. It may help to provide the doctor with supportive statements from your employer or co-workers that describe any work-related limitations they have observed in you. However, if the doctor will not change his mind, you may have to see another doctor.
Money. Some doctors will not prepare RFCs without a fee. Depending on the importance of the doctor’s opinion and the fee amount, it may be necessary to pay for the RFC assessment. If you have an attorney, he or she may pay the fee for you with the expectation that you will reimburse the attorney at the close of your case, either out of your own pocket or out of your disability back-payment.
The Perils of Doctor Shopping
If your doctor will not help you by filling out your disability forms, you may need to see another doctor. However, beware of “doctor shopping.” If you see multiple doctors in an effort to find a supporting a physician, Social Security will view this negatively in your case. If you must see another doctor, be sure to take all of the medical records related to your case to the doctor for his or her review. This will provide the objective medical evidence the doctor will need to form his or her opinion about your limitations.
Contact an Attorney for Help
Convincing an uncooperative doctor to help you with your disability forms can be difficult. But it is best to have the opinion of a doctor who has treated you for a long time -- if the doctor is supportive of your claim. An experienced disability attorney has practice dealing with doctors and explaining the disability process and expectations. This can make it easier to get the information you need to help win your case. To find a disability attorney in your area, visit our attorney locator page.