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Consultative examinations are the horror stories true?

Recently on our disability forum a user asked, “I have heard horror stories about consultative examinations and the unlikelihood that having one will result in winning SSDI benefits. I am wondering if perhaps those stories are not simply over blown. Should I be worried?”


The internet is full of stories about SSDI claimants experiences with consultative examiners. One such story included an examination in a dark, dingy room with little room for neurological testing of their gait. To top things off the doctor used his iPhone to test the patient’s visual acuity and only asked her a few questions about her limitations to work.

I wish this story was the exception not the rule, but there are simply too many stories not to believe that there may be some serious issues with the consultative examination process.

When will I have to go to a consultative examination?

If you have not seen a doctor, lack sufficient medical testing, or do not have enough medical information for the SSA to make a disability determination they may request that you go to a consultative examiner.

Consultative examiners do not work for the SSA. In fact, they are independent doctors who the SSA hires to perform a cursory medical examination for them.

Unfortunately, although the SSA has specific requirements which a doctor must meet to be hired as a CE, the quality and services provided by a CE can substantially vary.

What the Consultative Examiner will and will not do?

If you have been scheduled to see a consultative examiner it’s important to understand what they can and cannot do and the purpose of the examination.

First, the purpose of the exam is determined by the disability examiner who ordered it. The consultative examiner is not providing medical treatment. They are also not making a disability determination. This responsibility remains with the SSA. They are, however, providing an objective “snapshot” of a claimant’s limitations at the time of the examination.

Next, it’s important to understand that the consultative examiner has limited time to spend with you. In fact, some claimants report the exam was less than 10 minutes.

With this in mind, it’s important to understand that the information and evidence they will gather in this short period is unlikely to be as valuable as what your primary care doctor could provide over months and years of treatment.

Are the horror stories true?

As mentioned above, a few Google searches will tell you that many claimants are unsatisfied with their consultative examination. Some of the dissatisfaction could come from a misunderstanding of the purpose of the consultative examination or the hope that this exam would eliminate the claimant's need to get consistent medical care.

Some claimant’s, however, have examinations which are so short or so ineffectual that it’s clear that these examinations may be conducted by unqualified doctors or doctors who are so busy they simply do not have time to make a thorough assessment for the SSA.

Should I be concerned if the SSA has scheduled a consultative examination?

Unfortunately, most consultative examinations are scheduled because the SSA lacks enough information to make a disability determination. If this is the reason you have been asked to see a CE it’s important to realize that the examination generally does not lead to a favorable opinion.

If the SSA simply needs more recent information or a specific test prior to approval, the consultative examination may be good for your case.

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