After you apply for Social Security disability, you'll want to submit a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment that has been prepared by one of your doctors to support your case. Your 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 learn more about the importance of RFCs here.)
Unfortunately, some doctors are unwilling to help their patients by completing RFC forms, which can make it difficult for you to get disability benefits. But—depending on the reason for their reluctance—you might be able to convince your doctor to help you.
Your doctor's opinion is just one part of your disability application ("claim"). If your doctor's opinion is too out of step with the rest of your medical evidence, Social Security might take it with a grain of salt. But if your doctor can point to specific findings or test results they used to arrive at their opinion, it can be a valuable tool in helping approve your claim.
Whether you're filing for short-term disability or Social Security benefits, you should consider scheduling an appointment with your doctor to talk about your disability. Sit down with your doctor and explain to them the impact your disability has on your day-to-day life and on your ability to perform your normal activities.
It's important to explain to your doctor that you aren't asking them to "put you on disability." For example, you could say something like:
Your doctor may be more willing to help if they know you won't blame them if you are later denied.
If your doctor agrees with your limitations, ask them to write a statement to Social Security tying your limitations to the medical evidence in your file. A helpful statement might reflect the doctor's opinion in the following way:
Social Security will give "more weight" (special consideration) to this type of opinion, which shows how and why you would be limited from performing work activities, than to an opinion that just says you can't work. Ultimately, it's for Social Security to decide if you can't work—not your doctor.
There are many reasons why doctors refuse to fill out RFC forms. Here are some examples of common reasons doctors won't help their patients with disability forms.
The solution to unhelpful doctors depends on the reason they won't help you. If your doctor seems reluctant to fill out an RFC form or provide a medical opinion, you may be able to address their concerns with the following strategies:
If your doctor has unclear expectations of their role in your disability claim, ask your attorney or advocate (if you have one) to contact the doctor's office to explain. If you don't have a lawyer, reassure your doctor that once they complete the form and give it to Social Security, their involvement ends. Inform your doctor that their opinion on your disability will in no way impact their license or practice.
If your doctor doesn't want to complete an RFC form because of personal opinions they have about disability benefits, it's unlikely that you'll change their mind. Try asking the doctor to check the boxes that accurately reflect your limitations, without making a statement about your disability. Tell your doctor if you're applying for SSDI benefits ("workers' disability") which are based on taxes you paid into the system.
Unfortunately, if your doctor won't fill out any forms because their medical opinion is that you aren't disabled, it may be difficult to convince them to complete an RFC for you. Try to figure out why your doctor feels you can work. It may help to provide the doctor with statements from your employer or co-workers that describe any of the work-related limitations they've observed in you.
If your doctor doesn't want to help because they lack the time, show the doctor an RFC form. RFC forms are usually only two or three pages long and only require the doctor to check certain boxes about your limitations. They can generally be completed during a normal appointment, as long as the doctor is familiar with your condition.
Some doctors will refuse to fill out an RFC without getting money for their time. Depending on the importance of the doctor's opinion and the fee amount, it probably makes sense to pay for the RFC assessment. Most disability lawyers will pay the fee for you, with the expectation that you will reimburse them at the close of your case, either out of your own pocket or out of your disability back payment.
If your clinic has a "no forms" policy, the office staff will likely refuse to help you with the form. You might have a better chance of getting your doctor to cooperate if you make an appointment just to have your form filled out.
Yes. Your doctor can refuse to help because they're under no obligation to complete disability forms. But doctors are required to hand over copies of your medical records—which may contain statements about your ability to work—when requested by you, your representative, or Social Security.
If you're still waiting for medical records and you're scheduled for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge, you can ask the judge to issue a subpoena to the doctor's office, requiring them to release copies of your records.
Convincing an uncooperative doctor to help you with your disability forms can be difficult. But it's best to have the opinion of a doctor who has treated you for a long time—if the doctor is supportive of your claim.
Experienced disability attorneys and advocates have practice dealing with doctors and explaining the disability process and expectations. They can make it easier to get the information you need from your doctor to help win your case.
Updated May 3, 2023