In determining if you are disabled under their rules, Social Security is obligated to give the greatest consideration to the opinions of your own doctor. Getting a good, usable opinion from a doctor can be tricky, though. One common problems occurs when a doctor writes out a statement without any guidance. A doctor will take out a piece of paper and write something like:
I have been treating John Doe for the past five years. He is a poor shape with a bad heart and arthritis. He is totally and permanently disabled. /S/ Dr. Noah Itall.
A letter like this is essentially useless. Dr. Itall has failed to spell out the specific limitations his patient has. A Social Security judge is going to reject Dr. Itall's conclusion that John Doe is disabled. The judge will gently point out that it is her job to decide who is disabled. Doctors are not accustomed to people questioning their pronouncements, so it can be a revelation for them to discover they don't get the last word.
That said, your doctor's opinion is truly important. The trick is to get the doctor's opinion in the right form. Done properly, the judge is going to have to work very hard to avoid applying what the doctor says to the case. Judges sometimes reject a doctor's opinion. They can do so if the opinion is at odds with the rest of the medical records. A judge could also conclude that the patient did not give the doctor correct information and thus the doctor's opinion is invalid. But it is much easier for a judge to simply accept what a doctor says about her patient.
The best way to get a doctor's opinion is to have the doctor fill out specific forms. These are called medical source statements. These statements ask the doctor to provide detailed information that corresponds to what Social Security is looking for to make a disability determination. Rather than simply say John Doe is disabled, Dr. Itall can tell a judge the Mr. Doe cannot lift more than ten pounds,nor can he stand for more than fifteen minutes. These specific findings, among others, can guide a judge in deciding the fate of Mr. Doe.
Doctors generally prefer to fill out these forms because many of them are as simple as checking boxes. The forms take away the dilemma of a doctor who does not know what to say nor how to say it.
One note of caution: if your doctor tells you she does not want to fill out medical source statements, do not press the issue. Remember how much credence these reports have. If your doctor fills out the form in a way that is bad for you, the case is pretty much over. There is no good way to argue around the opinions of your own doctor. Silence from a doctor is always better than a report that is against you.
If you have questions about these forms or would like samples, call or email.