Why Your Doctor, the Treating Physician, Is Important for Social Security Disability

Judge holding gavel in courtroomSocial Security is required to give great weight to your treating doctor’s opinion of your disability.

What is a treating physician? The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines a treating physician as someone who provides medical treatment for you and has, or has had in the past, an ongoing relationship with you. Basically, there needs to be a history of treatment between the medical provider and the patient, in the eyes of the SSA, for the medical provider to be considered a treating physician.

Why are treating physicians important? The opinion of a treating physician is given great weight at a Social Security disability or SSI disability hearing by an administrative law judge, since a disability applicant’s treating physician would be in the best position of being able to render an informed and valid opinion regarding an applicant’s prognosis and functional outlook.

Of course, this may not always happen in reality. Disability judges have been known to completely disregard the opinion of a treating physician and deny the claim. When this happens, however, it can used on appeal to overturn the ALJ’s decision. Disability judges are required to give substantial weight to the opinions of a treating physician.

A disability applicant should not bounce around from one doctor to the next, because a doctor with whom you do not have an established history cannot be defined as a “treating physician.” In addition, make sure your treating doctor is an “acceptable medical source.” The only acceptable medical sources are licensed physicians (MDs), osteopaths (DOs), optometrists, podiatrists, and speech pathologists. Judges are not bound to accept medical evidence offered by other medical providers, such as chiropractors or naturopaths.

-by Beth Laurence, J.D.