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Can My Doctor's “Treatment Notes” Undermine My Disability Case?

Posted by on in Social Security Disability

Chicago disability benefits lawyer, disability case, Social Security Disability Insurance, disability claim, medical treatment notesWhen it comes to seeking Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, the medical opinions of your regular doctor can be a critical piece of evidence in your favor. Although Social Security recently amended its regulations to state that a treating physician's views will no longer be given special weight, the agency must still credit a medical opinion supported by substantial, consistent medical evidence. Furthermore, Social Security must look at your entire medical record and not just pick out certain items that may serve to discredit your disability claim.

Magistrate: Ability to Walk “Short Distances” Does Not Disprove Disability

One trick that Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) sometimes use is selectively citing a physician's clinical or treatment notes as evidence of a conflict with the doctor's overall medical opinion. Earlier this year we discussed just such a case where the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago held that Social Security erroneously concluded a treating physician's opinions were “not supported by his treatment notes.” Specifically, the appeals court noted that it was impossible for doctors to perfectly replicate working conditions during a clinical examination—thus, Social Security should not use a seemingly contrary test result as proof the applicant is not disabled.

But, despite the Seventh Circuit's admonition, Social Security continues to engage in questionable cherry picking from treatment notes. Recently an Illinois magistrate judge ordered a new disability hearing for an applicant suffering from chronic neck and back pain, the result of a car accident more than 12 years ago. The applicant's treating physician opined that she was “incapable” of performing “low stress” jobs, as she could not sit for more than 30 minutes—or stand for more than 15 minutes—at any given time.

The ALJ disregarded the treating physician's opinions, however, citing treatment notes that purportedly showed the applicant had a “normal range of motion” in her neck and back and could walk without difficulty. But, as the magistrate explained, the ALJ “took a myopic and highly selective view” of the treatment notes. In fact, the notes were wholly consistent with the physician's medical opinions regarding the applicant's disability.

The magistrate said the ALJ here made “precisely the same mistake” as the one in the prior Seventh Circuit case discussed above. In both cases, the ALJ conflated a patient's performance on a limited clinical test—i.e., walking “very short distances in the doctor's office”—with the ability to handle the physical demands of full-time employment. But such test results are not sufficient to contradict an expert opinion based on the applicant's complete medical record.

Get Help With Your Illinois Disability Case

The bottom line is that many Social Security ALJs are determined to find a reason to deny a disability claim regardless of the merits. That is why you need an experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer by your side when dealing with Social Security. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 to schedule a consultation with a qualified attorney today.


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