Social Security disability hearings will almost always involve the judge and the claimant’s attorney taking testimony from the claimant and from a Vocational Expert (there are other blog posts here that discuss the role of the Vocational Expert in detail). However, you may also have to contend with the testimony of a medical expert. The medical expert (or “ME” in disability law circles) is a physician brought in by the Social Security Administration to review the medical records from your numerous providers and give an opinion on what the totality of the medical evidence supports as far as diagnoses and related limitations. Whether or not there is a medical expert present at your hearing depends in large part on which judge is assigned to hear your case. Some judges seem to find medical expert testimony very desirable, while other judges rarely make use of these experts. Medical experts are more common in cases that involve less common disabilities, where judges are more apt to feel that their understanding of the case can benefit from the expert’s testimony.
If the medical expert’s testimony undercuts your claims to disability, your attorney can combat this testimony in a number of ways. First, the attorney can point out evidence within the file that is supportive of your case. The medical expert will generally testify that they have had the opportunity to review all of the medical evidence that is exhibited in your case. However, your attorney can ask them specifically if they had the opportunity to view certain tests, examinations, or appointment which yielded favorable evidence. Again, the medical expert will testify that they saw this evidence and gave it appropriate weight. They may opine that the most favorable aspects of the medical evidence are somehow outliers or inconsistent with the other evidence. Nevertheless, drawing the judge’s attention to favorable evidence that contradicts the expert’s testimony may have the effect of undermining the expert’s testimony and remind the judge that there is a significant difference of opinion between the expert and your actual providers.
The fact that the expert has not personally examined you is likely not going to carry the day as an argument against the medical expert’s opinion. The judge is well aware that the expert has not examined you. If fact, this is actually the point of his or her testimony-to have an unbiased outside professional interpret the medical evidence in your case.
The nuances of approaching medical expert testimony-particularly unfavorable medical expert testimony-are one of the many reasons why it is in your best interest to turn to a law firm that specializes in Social Security disability claims.