What to Watch Out for at Social Security Medical Exams

The Social Security medical exam: rude, quick, and usually not helpful.

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There are a few thing that a Social Security (or SSI) disability claimant might benefit from knowing before heading off to Social Security medical exam. (You may be sent to an exam if the disability claims examiner handling your case decides that one is necessary.)

Social Security medical exams tend to be brief. Very brief. In many cases, they may only take five minutes from start and finish, although they can last as long as 20 minutes. Most average about ten minutes.

Many of the doctors who perform consultative medical exams for the Social Security Administration do not seem to like doing them. This might appear to be a fairly subjective statement, but as a disability claims examiner, I heard many complaints about grumpy and rude doctors from disability claimants, who based it on the consultative doctor's attitude and demeanor. It would be difficult to find a disability examiner who has not heard the same commonly voiced complaint that the doctor who conducted a consultative exam (CE) was not only "lightning fast" in the conduct of the examination, but rude and unfriendly as well. Naturally, one might wonder: "Why would a physician agree to perform such exams if he or she dislikes doing them?" The answer is simple: Money. 

Many new and/or struggling medical practices see CEs as a fast and easy way to fill waiting room space -- that is, to generate additional revenue. Unfortunately, since the exams are paid for by Social Security and not by the person being examined, some doctors may fail to give the claimant the same level of courtesy that they would generally extend to one of their regular patients. 

The doctor who performs your CE may not have your best interests at heart. As a disability examiner, I read a number of CE reports in which the consultative physician noted their suspicion that the claimant seemed to be exaggerating their complaints and symptoms. These doctors have even been known to watch claimants as they walked back to their cars to see whether they limped or suddenly started walking better. From time to time, consultative doctors do see a small percentage of malingerers (people who pretend to have a disability in order to get benefits), so they feel justified in being suspicious of a patient's complaints. However, it is a well-known reality that many physicians do not give proper credence to a patient's complaints of pain, quite likely because pain is a subjective matter rather than a measurable and objective one. In other words, it is often difficult, even for trained doctors, to adequately comprehend the effects of someone else's pain. 

In short, claimants who go to CE exams should be aware of this basic and eye-opening reality: the doctors who perform these examinations are not there to assist or help them in any fashion. They are simply performing a paid service, one that holds very little value for claimants who are trying to win their disability benefits.

If you'd like to learn the basic facts about Social Security medical exams (known as CEs, or consultative examinations), visit our section on consultative medical exams.

By: Tim Moore, former Social Security disability claims examiner

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