How to Get Your Doctor to Help With Your Social Security Disability Case

Understand where your doctor is coming from and then ask for help in a way that will support your claim.

By , M.D.
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

If you believe you might qualify for Social Security benefits, you'll want your doctor to be on board with your disability application. You'll certainly need your doctor's office to send your medical records to the Social Security Administration (SSA), but you can improve your chances of winning if your records include a statement from your doctor about any limitations you have that keep you from working.

Can My Doctor Put Me on Permanent Disability?

Not exactly. While doctors often fill out paperwork for state short-term disability benefits, private long-term disability insurance, or workers' compensation claims, the SSA won't award you Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) based solely on a doctor's form. However, the agency does value your doctor's opinion to the extent that it's consistent with the medical record as a whole, so it's important to get their statement into your disability file.

How Can I Find Good Social Security Disability Doctors Near Me?

There really isn't such a thing as a "disability doctor." Doctors specialize in areas of medicine, not areas of law. The SSA does often send disability applicants to a consultative examination, which is a visit with an independent medical evaluator who assesses your physical or mental abilities. Consultative exams are paid for by Social Security, so they're probably the closest equivalent to seeing a free "disability doctor."

But consultative exams aren't always helpful and can sometimes hurt your claim. If you haven't been getting consistent medical treatment, you should try to establish a relationship with a doctor before you apply for disability. It's much better to have your regular doctor write a letter or fill out a form stating what you can and can't do at work.

How to Ask Your Doctor to Fill Out a Disability Form

First, keep in mind that doctors have mountains of paperwork to complete, such as patients' charts, insurance claims, and invoices. It's likely that your doctor has had many patients who've applied for SSDI or SSI, and doctors form habits about how to handle disability forms. You want to avoid having your forms buried somewhere in that paperwork pile. By planning ahead, you can take charge and have some control over making sure your doctor addresses your medical concerns regarding your disability.

Make an Appointment With Your Doctor Before You Apply for Disability

If you're thinking about applying for Social Security disability, it's best to make an appointment with your doctor before you file. You can talk about why you think your medical conditions keep you from working, and get a sense of whether your doctor will help you. Waiting until after you apply for benefits means that the SSA may make a disability decision before you get a doctor's appointment.

Write Down Your Limitations for Your Doctor

When you do get an appointment scheduled, make the most of the opportunity. Doctors are busy, so you should be prepared with specific details that you want to discuss. Before you attend the appointment, write down the name of each medical problem. After each one, describe specific ways the condition limits your ability to function normally, using real-life examples.

If your limitations are physical, be sure to mention—using numbers when possible—how much weight you can lift and carry, as well as how long you can stand and walk. Include any difficulties you have using your arms, hands, and fingers.

If you have a mental disorder, write about how well you get along with others, remember things to do, and follow instructions. Note any side effects you have from medications, such as feeling tired. You should jot down any symptom you experience that has more than a minor impact on your daily routine.

Giving your doctor a copy of your written limitations is a lot easier than just telling them and hoping they'll take adequate notes. You might not remember everything you wanted to tell your doctor, and even when doctors listen well, they aren't likely to write everything down with the level of detail you want. Make sure that what you've written is as short and clear as possible without omitting important limitations. Try to limit the description of your limitations to a page or two—if you give your doctor a long report, they're less likely to actually read it carefully.

Let Your Doctor Know About Your Disabling Conditions

Bring a copy of your written limitations with you to your doctor's appointment. Once you're in the doctor's office, mention that you've made a list of the problems you have with doing certain things and give it to your doctor. Then you can discuss the limitations together.

After the doctor looks your limitations over, ask them if they disagree with any of the limitations. Most doctors won't contradict you, but if you exaggerate your limitations so much that they are out of line with what most doctors see in other patients with the same problems, you'll get resistance from the doctor.

For example, say you've had a heart attack in the past, and your doctor is a cardiologist. A cardiologist is going to know how well your heart is pumping, so if your limitations are out of line with the doctor's idea of what they should be, the doctor will either want to further evaluate why you're doing so poorly, or they may simply not agree with you (and think that you're exaggerating your limitations).

Ask your doctor to give the written information about your limitations to the SSA when the agency requests your medical records. Ultimately, you know the truth about your limitations, so be honest with your doctor and you're most likely to get the help you need.

Explain That You're Applying for Social Security Disability

Let your doctor know that you'll be applying for Social Security disability, but don't assume they'll understand the disability determination process, which is complex—doctors working for the SSA can take years to fully understand federal medical policies.

Explain to your doctor that you aren't requesting an opinion about whether you're disabled. You could say something like, "I know you don't control the government's disability decisions and I don't even know if I qualify for disability. However, I need your help in getting accurate information to Social Security so that I can receive a fair evaluation." You're likely to receive a positive response.

Social Security Forms for Your Doctors to Fill Out

If your doctor agrees with your limitations, ask them to write a statement to Social Security tying your limitations to the objective medical evidence in your file. The statement doesn't have to be very complicated. Here's an example:

If your doctor asks for a form to fill out, you can print out a blank physical or mental residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment form and give it to your doctor. Then follow up with the doctor after a week or two.

Make sure your doctor has included all the limitations you discussed in their report to Social Security. Even small limitations can be important when the SSA is deciding whether you can do certain jobs. For example, say your past work required you to flex your thumb repeatedly but you can't do that anymore. If your doctor didn't mention any limitations on fine motor skills, the SSA might decide that you can return to your old job and deny your disability application.

You can avoid this by telling your doctor about every limitation you have, and making sure the limitations you list on your disability application are the same as those you report to your doctor. Having your doctor say the same things to the SSA as you're saying is more persuasive than your voice alone.

When You're Ready to Apply for Disability

Once you've made an appointment with your doctor and given them the Social Security disability forms to fill out, you can begin the application process. The agency has several ways for you to file your application for SSDI or SSI:

  • Apply online at Social Security's website.
  • Call 888-772-1213, between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, to speak with a representative. (People who are deaf or hard of hearing can call the TTY number at 800-325-0778.)
  • File in person at your local Social Security field office.

For most people, filing the application is the start of a potentially years-long journey towards getting approved for disability benefits.

If you've already been denied and need help with an appeal, see our article on appealing a denied claim. And if you're considering getting an attorney to help you fight for benefits, read our article about how to find a good disability lawyer.

Updated March 29, 2024

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