The Role of the Treating Physician in Disability Determinations

The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) considers the claimant’s treating physician to be the medical provider most able to provide a detailed, historical analysis of the claimant’s medical issues. Because of this treating physician’s familiarity with the claimant’s conditions, his/her opinion of the claimant’s capacities can be far more illuminating than analysis of x-rays, lab studies, and other objective data alone. For the same reason, the treating physician’s opinion can be far more influential than those of the objective examiners that SSA often uses to evaluate claimants’ medical conditions.

Generally, SSA wants the treating physician to provide an analysis of how the claimant’s impairments have limited their functional abilities, such as their activities of daily living, their social interactions, and their mental acuity. In so doing, SSA prefers analyses that employ standardized and objective medical diagnostic techniques, and which describe the severity and expected duration of the impairment. All analyses, however, should be consistent with medical signs and findings. If the treating physician provides an analysis or opinion that is plainly contrary to the objective medical data, that physician’s opinion will likely be afforded little weight.

In summary, claimants who have long treatment histories with their doctors should approach their doctors about providing analysis and opinions about their medical conditions. This does not mean that the doctor has to appear at a hearing or that he/she will be subpoenaed. Rather, many law firms have detailed functional capacity forms that medical providers can complete that will illustrate the severity and scope of the medical impairment. Doctors can also help by writing narratives about the history of the claimant’s impairment and treatment, the claimant’s remaining functional capacities, and their prognosis for the claimant’s recovery.