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What to expect at a Medical Exam or Consultative Exam for Social Security Disability

A disability medical exam, also called a consultative exam, is a part of many Social Security disability cases. They exist because a Social Security examiner must have recent (no older than 90 days) information regarding any disability you claim on your application. If you have not been to the doctor in the last few months or have no treatment record for a given disability, you will often need to schedule an appointment.

Your consultative exam is not an optional appointment. You must keep the appointment, and if you refuse to go or miss too many appointments, the Social Security Administration (SSA) can deny your application for benefits. So what can you expect from this exam? Learn the purpose of your medical exam or consultative exam, what goes on, how you can prepare yourself for this part of your disability application, and when to contact a qualified Social Security disability attorney.

Doctors Are Usually Independent Contractors

Many Social Security medical exam attendees get the feeling the doctor is just going through the motions. In many ways, the impression that the doctor doesn’t care isn’t far from the truth. Usually, contracted doctors perform consultative exams and dispassionately report what they find. The doctor isn’t your doctor, and the doctor likewise doesn’t work for SSA, so the exam might lead to undesired results.

The problem with using independent contractors is that the SSA can use any doctor who is a licensed physician, so you may not get a doctor specialized in your specific disability. In addition, these doctors have seen so many people come through, many of whom are trying to beat the system, that they often tend to be jaded about their patients, which affects their bedside manner. Many people who attend Social Security medical exams feel they get condescending or even rude treatment.

It would be best if you prepared yourself for such attitudes going in but never downplay your condition. Never say things aren’t as bad as they seem, and never try to act like you feel better than you do. At the same time, don’t act like you feel worse than you do. Be honest from top to bottom during your examination. Be consistent in how you present yourself and your disability from the time you pull up to the doctor’s office to the time you drive away.

Exams Can Work Against You but Rarely Help Your Case

The SSA schedules consultative exams, in general, for one reason: to help them close a case. The exam will rarely support your claim. For that, you need a solid medical history with your doctors. These exams are in place so that the SSA can find reasons not to support you. They are naturally brief and cursory. The Social Security medical exam can sometimes be helpful to provide a snapshot of where you currently are in medical terms.

In the case of those looking for disability benefits based on depression, a mental examination can be essential to establish that you do have a mental health condition, especially in a case where you have not had a formal diagnosis by your own doctor, therapist, or psychiatrist. In this case, the exam can help your application. In the end, however, a consultative exam is a tool used by the SSA to help close cases and deny claims.

What You Can Expect at a Consultative Exam

Expect the doctor to ask you about your medical history and any complaints related to your disability claim. They will perform a physical exam and conduct any tests requested by Disability Determination Services (DDS). The exam will be similar to any routine physical you might receive at your doctor’s office, only much briefer.

The doctor may take your blood pressure, weigh you, measure your heart rate, and look at other routine exam factors. If your complaint is particular, they may focus on the part of your body that is impaired. Tests may include exercise stress tests, range of motion tests, and strength tests to measure your physical abilities.

If your application cites mental health issues, instead of (or in addition to) the medical exam, you may be required to undergo a psychological or mental status examination. At the examination, a psychiatrist will conduct memory, intelligence, concentration, and direction-following tests. You may be given neuropsychological or IQ tests.

The Doctor’s Report

After the exam is completed, the doctor will write up a report to submit to DDS that includes your medical history, the results of your exams, your history of prior treatment, and any other test results. They will also include their opinion about your ability to continue working. The doctor’s report is one reason you should neither downplay nor exaggerate your symptoms.

Consultative exam doctors have observed patients before and after exams, including walking to and from their car in the parking lot and including what they saw in their report. It is then essential that you are sincere and consistent in presenting yourself and your injury.

How To Prepare for Your Consultative Exam

When you’re scheduled for a consultative exam, you need to be sure to take things step by step and get them right. There are several straightforward steps you can take to prepare for your exam to avoid mistakes:

  • Call a disability attorney: It never hurts to have legal help in your corner. You may not need an attorney, but if you are scheduled for an exam, chances are the SSA is looking to close your case. Having a qualified disability attorney on hand can give you the best chance of getting your claim heard and approved.
  • Bring recent exam results: If you have recent test results or diagnoses that the SSA may have overlooked, your disability attorney may be able to help you bring these to the attention of the appropriate individuals.
  • Double-check the doctor: If you get a doctor who isn’t the right fit for your disability, you may be able to challenge the source with the help of a disability lawyer.
  • Document your disability in detail: Any information you can bring to help the examiner learn about your injury and provide context can be helpful. Always remember that they are not your doctor, so they don’t know your medical history.
  • Know what you will say: Spend time thinking about your condition and how it has affected your life. Carefully craft what you plan to tell the doctor and rehearse it, so you don’t forget anything. Explain your symptoms and how they interfere with anything from taking a shower in the morning to eating and relating to loved ones.
  • Bring medical documentation and records with you: If you do need to attend a consultative medical exam, bring any medical documentation you have with you. These records can help to bolster your claim and help you get a more accurate exam result.
  • Bring a support person: You will want to have someone who can drive you to and from the appointment in case you feel wiped out afterward, and someone who may be able to serve as a witness to the exam and can report on what happened later.
  • Bring a pen and a notebook: The doctor will take notes during the exam, and you can also. Taking notes helps you remember what happened and what you and the doctor said, should you need to testify later.

Don’t Panic and Remember What You’ve Learned

If you are required to attend a consultative exam, don’t panic. Your concern is understandable, but remember that the exam will not establish anything you don’t already know, and it’s just one part of your claim. You now know what to do to be prepared for this step in the process.

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