By Matthew DeGioia, Attorney
When you went to medical school, I am sure you did not imagine the amount of paperwork you would be required to do daily as a doctor.
As a hospitalist once told me, you went to medical school to save lives, not to do homework. And yet, the amount of charting, reviewing test results, handling medication requests, and filling out forms that you do every day may indicate otherwise.
Unfortunately, disability benefits claims will often require you to complete additional paperwork, which can burden your time. Yet, I hope that when your patient informs you that they are applying for disability benefits, you will not simply see it as more mindless work that you have to do.
Here is how you, as a treating doctor, can be thoughtful about your patient’s disability claim:
1. Clearly convey your thoughts to your patient as soon as possible.
First and foremost, ask yourself whether you genuinely believe that your patient is medically precluded from performing their job (or any job). Then ask yourself if you are willing to go on record as saying that. Whichever way you decide, you should clearly convey your thoughts to your patient at your earliest convenience. Sometimes, I receive calls from people looking to hire me who speculate, without having a conversation with their doctors in the first place, that their treating physicians will support their disability claims. At times, to their dismay, these claimants will find that either their treating doctors will not support the case or, even if they think the patient is disabled, they do not want to deal with the hassle of completing paperwork for the claimant. Your patient should know your intentions now instead of later on when they have already applied for benefits and are relying on you to support their claim.
2. Keep detailed medical records.
Regardless of whether you support your patient’s claim for disability, it is crucial that you keep clear and accurate notes of your patient’s visits. Your records will likely be submitted to the decision-maker on your patient’s disability claim and will be relied upon to render a decision in the case. Ensure that the patient’s HPI and PMI are accurate and up-to-date. And, perhaps most importantly, make sure that the clinical findings in your ROS accurately reflect the issues that your patient is dealing with the day of their visit. The clearer your clinical notes are now, the less likely you will have to put more work into explaining away any ambiguities or inconsistencies later on.
3. Don’t just write a letter: Refer your patient to a disability attorney.
Some physicians think that simply writing a one-page letter opining disability is sufficient to assist their patients. However, in many cases, not only is merely writing a letter of support insufficient – it can be detrimental to a claimant’s claim.
This is because not all disability claims are created equal. Different disability benefits programs define “disability” according to different rules. Some claims, such as Social Security Disability claims, require claimants to prove that they are medically unable to perform any full-time work for at least one full year. Other claims, such as Federal Disability Retirement claims, only require an applicant to prove that they are medically unable to perform the material duties of their federal position, with or without reasonable accommodations. Some claims even modify their definition of disability over time. ERISA Long Term Disability Insurance claims often require a claimant to prove that they are medically unable to perform the essential duties of their last job, but then after paying two years of benefits, they require a claimant to prove that they are medically precluded from performing any occupation.
It is not up to you to understand the different nuances between these disability benefits programs. But I suggest that it is your responsibility to point your patient to someone who understands the complexities of varying disability benefits claims and can help your patient navigate the law surrounding these programs
4. Don’t over-exaggerate a patient’s limitations when completing paperwork
Decisionmakers on disability benefits claims are most wary of physicians who act like advocates. While most physicians who support disability claims do so with good intentions, they can inadvertently be too extreme when completing claimant forms and narrative reports. For example, a medical opinion that a claimant is unable to ever sit down is likely to be scrutinized and discredited by a decisionmaker because such a conclusion is not believable for most patients. You should complete claim forms and medical narratives in a manner that is consistent with your clinical observation of the patient and your medical records. If you are unsure about how to best convey your medical opinion, it is best practice for you to inform your patient and suggest that they contact a disability benefits lawyer to collaborate with you on the case.
At Andalman & Flynn, we have successfully represented thousands of disability benefits claimants. We are happy to share our thoughts on the viability of your patients’ claims and help clarify the process for you and your patient.
About Andalman & Flynn, P.C.: Founded in 1998 in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, Andalman & Flynn has forged a distinguished reputation for legal excellence. The firm represents individuals seeking disability benefits throughout the country and practices family law throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia. The firm focuses on cases that impact the rights of everyone, and are there for clients when responsive legal help is most critical. The firm has provided legal analysis on national and local television and radio, and their attorneys often testify before legislative bodies and are routinely invited to contribute to prominent legal publications. For more information about Andalman & Flynn, please visit the website at andalmanflynn.com or call 301.563.6685