The physician’s role in the Social Security disability determination process

How can a physician determine what constitutes a “medically determinable impairment”?

The method adopted by the Social Security Administration (SSA) is generally to find a Medically Determinable Impairment when a doctor’s diagnosis is based on anything more than a mere description of symptoms by the patient. Even with conditions that are accompanied by few objectively verifiable symptoms, SSA will let doctors use appropriate methods of diagnosis. For example, a diagnosis of fibromyalgia will be considered to meet the standard if the doctor has based the diagnosis on counting tender points.

There are some instances where SSA will count as findings a patient’s description of his or her symptoms. This approach is taken with conditions such as migraine headaches, which are considered medically determinable on the basis of a unique group of symptoms as described by the patient, as long as the doctor has ruled out other possible causes.

Is it necessary for a physician to know the technical legal definition of “disability”?

No. SSA understands that physicians are physicians and lawyers are lawyers. Doctors are not expected to be masters of technical legal jargon – their job is to understand and elucidate the medical factors upon which the agency makes its disability determinations. A doctor’s statement that a patient is disabled is not taken into account by SSA, even if the doctor uses the appropriate legal jargon. SSA is solely charged with making such determinations. Doctor’s opinions carry weight only when they focus on the medical issues that are their peculiar area of expertise.

If you have questions about the appropriate role of a physician within the Social Security disability determination process, or if you have a patient who might benefit from a lawyer’s expertise in navigating the system, please contact the Law Offices of Martin & Jones to speak with a knowledgeable Atlanta disability lawyer.