Overview of Disability

Disability Back Pay

Disability Requirements

Disability Applications

Disability Advice Tips

How long do cases take?

How to win Disability

SSD Mistakes to avoid

Disability for Mental

What if you get denied?

How to file Appeals

Disability through SSA

SSI Disability Benefits

Disability for Children

How do I qualify for it?

Working and Disability

Disability Award Notice

Disability Lawyer Q&A

Disability Conditions List

What is a disability?

Your Medical Evidence

Filing for your Disability

Disability Eligibility

SSD SSI Definitions

Recent Questions

SSDRC Disability Blog

Do doctors understand what Social Security means by disability?

A statement from a forum: "Doctors usually don't understand the fact that there is real difference between being medically diagnosed as "disabled", and the government's legal definition of disability".

Actually, there's a lot of truth in this statement. Over the years, I've encountered numerous physicians who seemed to think that if they simply give their patient a piece of paper stating "patient is disabled and unable to work" then the social security administration would roll over and issue a disability approval.

Obviously, it doesn't work that way, but what is a bit amazing is the fact that any physician would actually think for one moment that it does, and that the issuance of a short statement that says nothing about a claimant's functional limitations would be enough to win a disability case.

Let me clarify a couple of points. The social security administration makes decisions on disability cases by reviewing and evaluating medical evidence. And this includes statements from physicians. However, the type of evidence that both disability examiners and administrative law judges (hearings are held and decided by these federally appointed judges) are looking for and need is documentation that indicates a claimant's level of severity and level of functional limitation.

So, when a doctor submits a statement that says "my patient is 100% disabled", what does that mean, really? In actuality, it means nothing to someone making a decision on a disability case. Why? Because in order for social security disability or SSI disability benefits to be approved, it must be clear that a claimant cannot perform work activity that earns more than substantial gainful activity while engaging in either their past work or in some form of other work.

And the only way to arrive at such a determination is by first assessing what a claimant can or cannot do, i.e. their residual functional capacity. By doing this, a disability examiner or disability judge can determine whether or not a claimant return to their past work, or perform some other type of work.

So, what type of medical record documentation helps a disability adjudicator the most? Obviously, detailed documentation that makes reference to what a patient can or cannot do. For example, the ability or inability to: sit, stand, crouch, stoop, reach, lift, walk, hear, see, etc, etc.

Unfortunately, this is not the type of approach that most doctors take when it comes to compiling their treatment notes. And, in fact, sometimes, it is extremely difficult for an adjudicator to find anything in the medical records that even hints of a patient's functional limitations.

However, when a doctor submits a statement to social security on behalf of a patient, they have opportunity to rectify this by citing their patient's residual functional capacity (translation - what they are still capable of doing despite the effects of their impairment or impairments).

Therefore, if you plan to obtain a statement from a physician in support of your case, try to make it clear to the physician that the statement needs to be detailed in the sense of providing commentary regarding your functional capacity and limitations; otherwise, the doctor's statement may be next to useless.

Return to:  Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions

Related pages:

Social Security Definition of disability for a child
24 month waiting period and Social Security Disability
How your past work affects your Social Security Disability or SSI decision?
How to file for disability in Maryland
Time on a Social Security Disability Decision
Appealing a denial of Social Security Disability or SSI
How long does your condition have to last to qualify for disability?
What SSA means by disabled and disability
How to apply for disability for a child or children
How much does disability pay?
How long will you get disability after an award notice?
If Social Security sends you to a psychiatrist
How to file for disability in Alabama
SSD, SSDI, SSI impairments list
Filing for disability with psoriatic arthritis

Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:

Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI

These pages provide answers to basic questions about pursuing disability benefits

How and why to check Social Security Disability Status
Social Security Disability back pay
Non medical requirements for disability
Qualifying for disability, SSD SSI
When does social security consider you eligible for disability benefits?
Who qualifies for SSI?
Forms to complete when filing, applying for disability
How long does SSDI and SSI disability take to get?
Filing for disability with Depression
Can You Get Approved For SSI or SSD Benefits with a Mental Condition
How long for a disability judge to make a decision?
While you are in your disability interview
The SSD and SSI definition of disability
Filing for disability with carpal tunnel syndrome
Social Security Disability SSI and Fibromyalgia
Can you work if you get a disability check?
Disability application denied
File for disability, the application
How to get disability benefits
Conditions that get approved for disability
How to Appeal a disability claim denial from Social Security