Medical evidence plays a huge role in determining the outcome of Social Security Disability claims. In 2010, just over half of all SSD claim denials at the initial level were made on a medical basis, according to a report from the Social Security Administration. The SSA establishes strict standards for medical evidence, including the use of acceptable medical sources. SSD applicants in Chicago risk claim denial if they fail to provide adequate evidence from an acceptable medical source.
The SSA recognizes licensed physicians, optometrists and podiatrists as acceptable medical sources. Licensed or certified psychologists, including school psychologists, and speech-language pathologists with relevant qualifications are also acceptable medical sources. Other medical professionals, along with people in other fields, are not considered acceptable medical sources.
The SSA requires that acceptable medical sources, rather than other medical sources, do the following things:
- Officially diagnose the disabling condition
- Provide medical opinions over the prognosis, severity and effects of the disability or illness
- Act as the applicant’s treating source
This does not mean treatment and evidence from other medical sources is inadmissible in an SSD claim. The SSA acknowledges that managed healthcare has resulted in more individuals seeking medical treatment from professionals who are not acceptable medical sources. The SSA recognizes the validity of objective evidence from these sources, such as medical imaging. Professional opinions from these other medical professionals also can bolster an SSD applicant’s claim.
Evidence from other medical sources, such as physician assistants or nurse practitioners, can help establish the severity of a condition and the resulting functional limitations. When weighing this evidence and its accuracy, an SSA claims examiner considers whether the medical source has a history of treating the applicant and specializes in a relevant field. The examiner also evaluates whether the source’s observations or opinions are consistent with the other medical evidence.
In an effort to review all relevant medical evidence when considering an applicant’s impairments, the SSA also considers evidence from non-medical sources. These sources include people who have treated the applicant in a professional capacity, such as social workers and counselors. People who have non-working relationships with the applicant, such as family members and friends, can also act as non-medical sources.
Evidence from these sources can never replace findings from acceptable medical sources. However, this evidence can strengthen an applicant’s claim by highlighting aspects of the applicant’s disability that may not be apparent based on medical evidence alone.