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The Role of Consultative Physicians in Disability Cases

 Posted on November 08, 2018 in Social Security Disability

Illinois social security disability attorney medical examWhen applying for Social Security disability benefits, the medical records provided by your own treating physicians are rarely taken at face value. Social Security will also seek one or more consultative medical examinations. These are exams conducted by doctors hired by the government to supplement the existing medical records in your case. In many cases, consultative physicians only do a quick exam, yet their views are often afforded great weight by Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) when deciding whether to grant or deny a disability application.

Appeals Court Rejects Disability Applicant's Interpretation of Doctors' Opinions

When dealing with consultative physicians, it is important to be honest. Do not exaggerate or downplay any symptoms you are experiencing. Similarly, you need to be accurate when citing or discussing any findings presented by the consultative physicians.

Recently, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago rejected a Social Security disability appeal centered on the views of two consultative physicians. The plaintiff, a woman in her 50s suffering from a variety of mental and physical impairments, applied for disability benefits four years ago. Two consultative physicians–a medical doctor and a psychologist–conducted brief exams of the plaintiff on the same day in 2014. 

According to the Seventh Circuit, the medical doctor reviewed the plaintiff's complaints of knee and hip pain. The doctor concluded there were “minimal objective findings” supporting these complaints. More to the point, the consultative physician determined that the plaintiff's range of motion was slightly below normal and that she was still “capable of engaging in light physical demand level activities.”

Meanwhile, the consultative psychologist reviewed the plaintiff's history of bipolar disorder and anxiety. Although the plaintiff said she used to “hear voices,” she had not experienced such symptoms for approximately three years. Similar to the consulting medical doctor, the psychologist determined that the plaintiff's mental health limits were “minimal” and that she was “likely to have slight difficulty in social interactions.”

A Social Security ALJ decided the plaintiff was not disabled. On appeal to the Seventh Circuit, the plaintiff argued that the ALJ did not properly consider the opinions of the two consultative physicians. To the contrary, the Seventh Circuit said, the ALJ did just that. The problem, according to the Court, was that the plaintiff was cherry-picking and “misstating” the doctors' observations to bolster her case. For example, the plaintiff maintained that the consulting medical doctor made “pretty explicit” that she had a “knee problem” that reduced her range of motion. However, the appeals court said the doctor “rendered no such opinion,” and even the doctor's statement that the plaintiff was “capable of engaging in light physical demand level activities” did not mandate a conclusion that the plaintiff was “not capable of more.”

Speak With a Chicago Disability Benefits Attorney Today

Dealing with consultative medical exams is a critical part of the process of applying for disability benefits. If you need legal advice or assistance in understanding how these doctors' views may affect your claim, you should speak with a qualified Chicago Social Security disability lawyer today. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 to set up a free consultation.



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