The Significance of "Objective" Evidence in Disability Claims

Whether or not someone is disabled can be a very difficult thing to assess. For example, one person with a diagnosis of degenerative disc disease may be able to work, while another person with the same diagnosis is unable to work. In addition, pain affects everyone differently and there is no easy test to determine how much pain someone experiences. In light of these challenges, the Social Security Administration and disability insurance companies pay special attention to “objective” medical evidence to determine whether someone is disabled.

What Is “Objective” Medical Evidence?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines objective medical evidence as the following medical signs and laboratory findings:

  • Signs are anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be observed, apart from your statements (symptoms). Signs must be shown by medically acceptable clinical diagnostic techniques. Psychiatric signs are medically demonstrable phenomena that indicate specific psychological abnormalities, e.g., abnormalities of behavior, mood, thought, memory, orientation, development, or perception. They must also be shown by observable facts that can be medically described and evaluated.
  • Laboratory findings are anatomical, physiological, or psychological phenomena which can be shown by the use of medically acceptable laboratory diagnostic techniques. Some of these diagnostic techniques include chemical tests, electrophysiological studies (electrocardiogram, electroencephalogram, etc.), roentgenological studies (X-rays), and psychological tests.

Similarly, disability insurance companies place special emphasis on evidence such as diagnostic imaging (x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds, etc.), laboratory testing (blood draws, chemical testing, etc.), pulmonary function tests, cardiac testing (EKGs, echocardiogram, etc.), nerve testing (EMGs, etc.), sleep studies, pathology reports, operative reports, functional capacity evaluations, and psychological testing.

When someone describes a symptom such as pain or fatigue, this is a subjective report. The SSA and insurance companies normally look at objective evidence to determine if the patient’s complaints are confirmed by objective evidence. Without objective evidence, the SSA or insurance company may discount the severity of the patient’s subjective reports.

Documenting Your Disability

The best way to document your disability is by maintaining regular medical treatment with your doctors and other medical providers. Your doctors will likely order the necessary tests to diagnose and assess the severity of your condition. Failure to regularly see your doctors may mean that you do not have the necessary objective evidence to document your disability.

Beware that some conditions cannot be evaluated by objective evidence. For example, fibromyalgia is a condition that cannot be found by diagnostic imaging or laboratory results. Nonetheless, treatment with the appropriate specialist for fibromyalgia (typically a rheumatologist) can establish how a diagnosis was made, identify which conditions have been ruled out by testing, and document associated symptoms that are compatible with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

Another example of a condition that normally eludes objective evidence are debilitating headaches. MRIs and CT scans often do not reveal the presence of headaches. However, treatment with a neurologist and other medical providers can indicate the frequency, severity, and duration of a patient’s headaches. Because medical records may not always explain how often someone is experiencing a headache, the affected individual may need to document their symptoms in a written diary or use a smartphone app.

Mental health conditions are also the kinds of impairments that cannot be evaluated by medical imaging or laboratory findings. Because of this, maintaining medical treatment with a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, or counselor is essential to documenting impairments from mental health conditions.

Contact the Indiana Disability Attorneys of Keller & Keller for Help With Your Claim

The lawyers at Keller & Keller are experienced Social Security disability attorneys, as well as long term disability attorneys. Call today for a free case evaluation. Our disability attorneys offer a Zero Fee Guarantee. That means you'll never pay for a consultation and the only way our attorneys receive payment for their legal services is if you receive disability benefits.

If you wish to speak to one of our Indiana disability lawyers, you can contact us at 1-800-253-5537, or write to us by using our free contact form.

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