If you believe you might qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you need your doctor to support your claim for disability. You'll need your doctor to send your medical records to Social Security as well as a statement about any limitations you have that prevent you from doing work tasks. What do you need to do to make sure Social Security gets the documentation it needs to decide your case?
First, understand that doctors have mountains of paperwork to complete, such as patients' charts, insurance forms, invoices, and forms from the SSA (Social Security Administration). If you’ve already applied for disability benefits, the SSA’s request for paperwork is probably buried somewhere in that pile, along with a request for information from your lawyer, if you have one.
It is likely your doctor has had many patients who have applied for disability with the SSA. Doctors form habits about how to deal with such claims, and some doctors have attitudes toward the Social Security disability system that can range from friendly to hostile. But you can still take charge and have some control over making sure your doctor addresses your medical concerns regarding your disability.
Plan ahead so that you can get a timely appointment and bring a list of your limitations to your doctor.
If you are thinking about applying for Social Security disability, it is in your best interest to get appointments with your doctors before you apply, so you can discuss your problems and find out if the doctor will help you. If you wait until after you apply for benefits, and then have to wait for an appointment with doctor, Social Security may make a disability decision before you get that appointment.
When you do get an appointment, you need to be prepared, since doctors are busy and are almost always in a hurry. Before you go in, write down the name of each one of your medical problems on a piece of paper. After each disorder, think about specific ways it limits your ability to function normally, using real-life examples. Be sure to include how you are limited in lifting and carrying and how long you can stand and walk. Include any problems you’ve noticed with environmental factors like dust, heat and cold that limit your abilities. If you have a mental disorder, document how well you get along with others, remember things to do, and follow instructions. Note any limiting effects of medications, such as lethargy, sleepiness, or headaches.
Don't assume your doctor will know all the limitations you have and report them to Social Security. Doctors often know less about their patient limitations than the patients themselves. Even small limitations can be important in Social Security's decision on whether you can do certain jobs. For example, suppose you have work experience doing an activity that requires you to flex your thumb repeatedly, but you can’t do it any more. That limitation might keep Social Security from saying you can do your prior work. But if your doctor hasn't included the limitation in his or her report, Social Security won't consider it.
Without your input, your doctor will simply review your medical records, develop an opinion about your limitations, and send it to Social Security without any input by you. You can avoid this by telling your doctor about every limitation you have. And make 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 as you allege to the SSA is more persuasive than your saying it alone.
There are three steps to getting your doctor provide the support you need in your disability claim.
Let the doctor know you'll be applying for Social Security disability, but don't assume your doctor understands the Social Security disability process, which is a complex system. It takes other doctors working for Social Security years to fully understand federal medical policies. It is important to explain to the doctor that you are not requesting an opinion about whether you are disabled. This will be good news to your doctor, who is probably tired of receiving blame from patients about their disability claims sometimes being denied.
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 them so that I can receive a fair evaluation.” You will almost certainly receive a positive response to this statement. And then you can tell the doctor about how your impairments affect you.
Don't tell your doctor verbally about all your limitations and try to get your doctor to write them all down during an appointment. If you do, you will be disappointed. There will not be enough time, you may not remember everything, and the doctor will likely take skimpy or even no notes. Even when doctors listen well, they will not write down the detail you want. Instead, say you have made a list of the problems you have with doing certain things and hand it to the doctor. Ask your doctor to give that information it to Social Security when the agency request information about you. Some doctors may glance at it and try to hand it back. In that case say, “No, Doctor, I made that copy for you.”
After the doctor looks your limitations over, ask the doctor to discuss any limitations he or she disagrees with. 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 will get resistance from the doctor. You know the truth about your limitations, with some exceptions. Stick to that and you are most likely to get the help you need.
Another reason a doctor might disagree with your limitations is when you have a certain kind of disorder in which your doctor is a specialist, and your doctor has an opinion on what you should be able to do. For example, say you have had a heart attack in the past. Your cardiologist is going to know how well your heart is pumping. If your limitations are out of line with the doctor's idea of what they should be, the doctor will either want to do further evaluation to find out why you are doing so poorly or may simply not agree with you and think that you are exaggerating your limitations.
Make sure what you have written is as short and clear as possible without omitting important limitations you might have. Doctors would like to spend as much time with patients as patients want, but that’s not possible. Most will not spend even five minutes reading something you give them during your visit, so try to limit the description of your limitations to a page or two. If you give a doctor a long report, they are not likely to actually read it carefully. More likely, they will skim it quickly and move to examine you, give you some advice, and go on to the next patient.
If your doctor agrees with your limitations, ask your doctor to write a statement to Social Security tying your limitations to the objective medical evidence in your file. For example, “My patient, Mr. John Doe, has severe osteoarthritis affecting all of the joints in both hands, verified on x-ray and clinical examination. He cannot make a tight fist, his grip is weak, and he cannot handle objects smaller than a dime. Stiffness and pain limit him to lifting and carrying no more than 10 lbs.” If your doctor asks for a form to fill out, you can print out a physical or mental RFC assessment form and give it to your doctor. Then follow up with the doctor after a week or two.