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Medical Sources

Understanding the term “medical source” might seem self-explanatory, but Social Security Administration does not recognize every type of provider as an approved medical source (AMS) for the purpose of determining whether a claimant has disability.

SSA has long accepted a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO) as an approved medical source for establishing a severe medical impairment. Notwithstanding, to establish a mental impairment, many adjudicators will need to seek treatment with a psychiatrist or a licensed or certified independent practice-level psychologist. Mere medication with antidepressants or anxiolytics from a primary care provider alone will often not be enough to establish a severe mental impairment without evidence from a specialist. Likewise, allied health professionals such as a doctor of optometry (OD) or doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM) are approved by SSA to provide evidence of impairments within their respective specialties.

In recent years, the administration expanded their definition of an approved medical source to recognize the advanced practical registered nurse (APRN) and physician assistant (PA). An APRN can include a certified nurse midwife (CNM), certified nurse anesthetist (CRNA), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), or nurse practitioner (NP). Qualified speech-language pathologists (CCC-SLP) and audiologists (CCC-A) who have completed a Certificate of Clinical Competency will also qualify as approved medical sources in their field.

However, Social Security Administration specifically declined to include the doctor of chiropractic medicine (DO) and naturopathic doctor (ND) as approved medical sources, though such providers may offer insight into the severity and extent of a disability once an approved medical source has established the existence of a medically diagnosable impairment. Similarly, physical therapist (PT) or occupational therapist (OT) are not approved medical sources but can often show limitations of a medical impairment with specificity. For that matter, other nonmedical sources such as teachers, social workers, and employers may also offer testimony or evidence to show the severity of a condition, though the adjudicator might not assign great weight to their observations over an approved medical source.

While your choice for medical care should not be influenced by the providers credentials alone, these credentials do influence the adjudication of a Social Security Disability claim.

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