Should You Trust the Social Security Disability Doctor?

Exams will vary by doctor, but it's generally a good idea to be wary during a medical exam for Social Security.

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What is usually meant by "Social Security disability doctor" is a doctor who is hired to do a consultative exam (either a physical exam or psychiatric exam) for Social Security. These doctors are not employees of the Social Security Administration, but independent doctors in private practice who are trying to make a bit of extra money.

Should you trust this consulting doctor? The answer is no. As a former disability examiner, I have been on the receiving end in multiple capacities. First, I have heard many hundreds of complaints voiced by claimants as to how they were treated by the doctor who conducted their exam (all too often, these doctors conduct hurried exams and are rude to the claimants they examine).

Second, I have read hundreds of consultative exam reports written by doctors who have indicated observations such as the following:

  • "Patient stated he felt fine and free of pain."
  • "Patient had no difficulty getting onto examination table."
  • "Patient used cane in office, but did not use cane while walking to his car."

Statements such as these indicate that doctors who examine claimants for SSDI and SSI disability cases will sometimes go out of their way to make notations in their examination reports that are not helpful to a claimant's case, and they may not accurately reflect the patient's pain. Even patients who are in pain are sometimes reluctant to express how badly they feel to people they have just met, even if those individuals are doctors. The simple act of getting onto an examination table does not refute the presence of pain or invalidate one's alleged mobility problems (some people simply try to do their best at all times and even hide their pain). And, regarding the last item, there are many patients with severe back problems who do not need the use of a cane at all times.

Third, you should understand why disability claims examiners send claimants to consultative medical exams. The most common reason is that they don't think you are disabled but they need recent medical evidence (not older than 30 or 60 days) in order to deny you disability benefits. Claimants are often sent to just to have a symptom checked or one test done, such as a straight-leg test. (That is why many consultative exams only last five to ten minutes.) For instance, if a straight-leg test comes back negative and a positive test is required for a disability listing, you can be denied.

In short, when you go to a consultative exam for Social Security, know that the doctor is not on your side and may be trying to collect information to deny your claim. You may be observed by a biased doctor from the moment you enter the examining doctor's parking lot until the time you drive away. And don't be shy about addressing your pain and/or mobility issues.

Written by: Tim Moore, former Social Security claims examiner

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