I can’t count how many times a client has excitedly handed me a note from their doctor, a scribble on a prescription pad that reads “My patient is completely disabled.”
“Now we HAVE to win the case, RIGHT??!!”
Wrong. Medical statements such as these are utterly useless in the eyes of the Social Security Administration. For lots of reasons, but especially because no one knows from a statement like this WHY SPECIFICALLY your doctor thinks you can’t work. Is it because you can’t lift very much? Or because you can’t stand very long? Or maybe because you have panic attacks so often that you can’t leave the house by yourself? “Completely disabled” is way too vague, it just doesn’t tell the Administration anything helpful.
So what types of information is a physician able to convey that COULD help your case? Well, statements about specifically how YOUR medical conditions affect your ability to walk, sit, lift, get along with other people, withstand the pressure of a 9 to 5 schedule, etc…
But even then, a doctor’s statement about functional limitations is meaningless without treatment notes and test results to back it up. If a doctor gives an opinion that you are limited in your ability to stand, there had better be an MRI of your back or x-rays of your knees (or some other good reason) to explain the limitation. If the doctor says that your medications cause you to be groggy, there had better be treatment notes showing that you have been complaining to your doctor about side effects. If the doctor says you have two migraines a week that make you vomit and sleep for four hours, there had better be ongoing complaints of headaches and an attempt to treat them with medications or other therapies.
So what can YOU do to help your doctor help you? TELL YOUR DOCTOR about your symptoms. I can’t count how many times I’ve had a client say “But my doctor knows how I feel.” That may be true, but if you stop telling your doctor about the pain, the panic attacks, the ups and downs, the side effects, and if your doctor doesn’t write those complaints down in your medical chart, a judge will never believe that your symptoms are as severe as what you describe in your testimony.
Case in point: I recently represented a very kind, very disabled man at a hearing in front of a judge. My client had been consistently treating with the same psychiatrist for over four years, and the doctor knew him inside and out. At my request, the psychiatrist was kind enough to write paragraphs of explanation about why my client was unable to attend work, reasons like panic attacks, bouts with severe and uncontrollable depression, and an inability to leave the house by himself. The problem? NONE of those symptoms were documented in the doctor’s treatment notes, making it appear to the judge that the assessment was merely the doctor’s attempt to help out his long time patient by writing what he thought the judge wanted to hear.
REPORT your symptoms, REPORT your pain, ASK FOR TESTING to help you get to the bottom of your medical conditions. This not only helps your doctor to properly diagnose and treat your conditions (which is the MOST important thing), but it also creates a symptoms diary that will help the judge to understand how you feel over time.