What’s a Social Security Disability consultative exam?

Sep 9, 2021 | Social Security Disability

When you file for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits, your claim won’t be decided until it goes through a rigorous screening process.

Sometimes, there simply isn’t enough information in your records for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to make a decision. Therefore, they may ask you to go to a special consultative exam (or two) with a doctor of their choosing.

Is this good news or bad news for your claim?

On one hand, the request for a consultative exam is good news. If SSA had the clear ability to deny your claim without it, they would. At the very least, then, a consultative exam means that there’s enough evidence in your file that your condition might qualify for benefits.

On the other hand, the doctors who perform consultative exams aren’t always the most “patient-friendly” of physicians. Although these doctors officially have “no personal stake in the outcome” of your claim, according to SSA, the reality is that many of them rely on the income from these consultations to keep their practices going. That could unconsciously leave them biased against hard-to-prove claims.

How do you prepare for your exam?

If you have a consultative exam, it’s important to go in prepared. This means:

  • Gather as many of your medical records as possible to take with you.
  • Write down your medical timeline (what symptoms you developed, where you sought treatment, what diagnoses you received and any hospitalizations).
  • Take all of your prescription and non-prescription medications with you.
  • Be ready to verbally explain how your condition limits you in concrete ways, with examples.
  • Take a friend or relative with you who can be present during the exam.

That last tip may be particularly important. Doctors often think twice about their behavior toward a patient when there are witnesses.

The disability application process can be very complicated and frustrating, but you do have rights. It may be wise to seek legal guidance if you’re having trouble getting the benefits you need.