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Can you Trust the Doctor who does the Social Security Disability Medical Exam?

I've written many times about the doctors who perform physical medical examinations for the social security administration. These doctors are independent physicians who have contracted to provide a service by conducting short examinations of disability claimants. They do not work for social security as opposed to the doctors who work with disability examiners in case processing units (these doctors are known as unit medical consultants).

Just the same, however, most claimants who go to a examination routinely refer to these doctors as "social security doctors". They also end up telling remarkably the same stories about their exam (which is technically referred to as a CE or consultative examination) experiences.

How do the stories go? Typically, like this:

1. The exam was short (ten minutes seems about average as the reported length)

2. The exam was really short (less than five minutes).

3. The doctor knew nothing about the claimant or the claimant's medical background (sometimes examiners send copies of selected bits of medical evidence to the examining doctor to fill them in regarding the claimant's medical history, but usually not).

4. The doctor had a specialization that seemed "out of place" (e.g. a gynecologist giving a neurological exam).

5. The doctor was rude (this seems extremely common).

When the doctor is the enemy

Well, here's another characterization of the doctors who perform examinations for social security. Sometimes, they are the enemy. Here's an example. They observe claimants from their office window, looking to see whether or not the claimant is exaggerating their symptoms.

I've seen this one on a number of consultative examination reports myself (exam reports are supposed to be sent to disability examiners within ten business days following the examination). And, typically, I didn't assign the remark much weight simply because pain and the ability to ambulate without noticeable restriction tend to be somewhat transient phenomena. In other words, pain can come and go, and a person's walking ability can seem better or worse throughout the course of a day.

However, the fact that consultative exam doctors make such remarks and make such observations points to one thing. Don't assume that the doctor who is examining you is a disinterested party. Sometimes, these doctors have their own biases and can work against you. Just remember that when you go to an exam, the doctor may be watching you more than you realize.

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For the sake of clarity, SSDRC.com is not the Social Security Administration, nor is it associated or affiliated with SSA. This site is a personal, private website that is published, edited, and maintained by former caseworker and former disability claims examiner, Tim Moore, who was interviewed by the New York Times on the topic of Social Security Disability and SSI benefits in an article entitled "The Disability Mess" and also by the Los Angeles Times on the subject of political attempts to weaken the Social Security Disability system.

The goal of the site is to provide information about how Social Security Disability and SSI work, the idea being that qualified information may help claimants pursue their claims and appeals, potentially avoiding time-consuming mistakes. If you find the information on this site helpful and believe it would be helpful to others, feel free to share links to its homepage or other pages on website resource pages, blogs, or social media. Copying of this material, however, is prohibited.

To learn more about the author, please visit the SSDRC.com homepage and view the "about this site" link near the bottom of the page.