How To Hang With the Social Security Doctor

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Robin Mead

The CE (Consultative Exams) is an appointment with a Social Security doctor.

If Social Security would like you to go to a CE, they will write you a letter and tell you when and where to go.

If you get sent to CE, do not worry. Many people are sent to CEs and it does not mean anything special about your case when this happens.

These exams most often happen a few months after you first apply. Sometimes they also happen when people who are already on disability come up for a review. Occasionally they happen at other times. You may be sent to a physical exam or a mental exam or both.

In some cases, the results of CE exams have little or no affect on the outcomes of applications. The records from your own doctors are often much more important for your application.

The Game of Low Expectations

It may be helpful to keep in mind that the CE doctor is just there to give you a small exam and write down the results.

They have no power to decide your case, they will not treat you or help you with your condition, and it is rare that they will find anything new that helps your claim.

CE doctors are not Social Security employees. They are just regular doctors making a few extra bucks performing these exams on the side. It will make no difference to them if your application is approved or not. They will never know what happens and never hear about you again.

Some CE doctors are very nice, but some people report that their CE doctor was rude or rushed. Keep your expectations low, and you won’t be disappointed.

Before the Exam

🌺 Here are a few great things you can do to help your visit go more smoothly.

🌺 If you have no transportation to get to the exam, or if you are homebound or cannot go for health reasons, the link above also includes some solutions for this situation.

🌺 You have the right to request your own doctor perform the exam. Learn more about this.

When You Arrive

🌺 There is a good chance someone will observe or ask you how you got there, how far you traveled, if you needed someone to accompany you, and if you were able to drive a car.

🌺 They may also note other things, such as your ability to walk, stand, sit, hold a conversation, fill out a form, etc.

🌺 They may note how you behave in the parking lot, waiting room, and doctor’s office.

🌺  You may be sent to a Physical CE or Mental CE or both. The letter you get should tell you if you are going to a physical doctor or a psychiatrist.

The Physical CE

🌺 Physical CEs are usually very quick! Most people report that their CE exam lasted around 15 minutes. Doctors are not paid a lot for these exams, and they tend to make them quick.

🌺 You may meet with two people. The first person may be an intake person who asks questions, and the second person will be the doctor.

🌺 Some people report that they are given some brief function tasks. For example: Walk across the room, pick up pennies, put a cap on a pen, touch your nose with your eyes closed, stand on one leg. The doctor will observe the person and decide if there are any difficulties or problems with functioning.

🌺 Some people are given x-rays or other tests during their CE exam, and some doctors will ask about or look for signs of specific symptoms and impairments. This depends on your diagnosis. Here is a rather confusing list from Social Security of the different kinds of exams for different illnesses.

The Mental CE

🌺 Mental or Psychiatric CEs are usually around 45 minutes. However, sometimes they just do a mental status exam which takes about 15 minutes.

🌺 You may meet with two people. The first person may be an intake person who asks questions, and the second person will be the doctor.

🌺 You will probably be asked some questions to test your memory and cognitive ability. For example: Who is the president? How do you spell your name? Can you remember three words I say to you? Can you still remember the three words ten minutes later? What is 100 – 7? How do you spell “world”? How do you spell it backwards?

🌺 Most other questions will be standard psychological questions about your mental health. They will also ask about your family history and personal background

🌺 The doctor will also note someone’s appearance and behavior – how they are dressed, if they make eye contact, if they appear clean and bathed, if they are able to carry on a conversation, how much they struggle to remember and answer questions, etc. Here’s a good article on what doctors observe during a mental exam.

🌺 The doctor may also look for signs of malingering or “faking it”. They may be concerned if they observe that someone is not really trying their hardest and best to answer the questions.

Tricky Questions

🌺  Here’s a bunch of tricky questions that may come up during your exam. These questions are important, and your answers are important. Please read: Tricky Questions at the Doctor’s Office

Sleepy Girl Tips for a Great CE Exam

🌺 Here’s the way to have great doctor visits that create accurate records. This is not just for the CE, these are great things to do for ALL docs ALL the time!

🌺 Super helpful: If you have a strong medical summary letter, psychological assessment or RFC function form from your own doctor, bring it a copy with you and hand it to the CE to keep. He may or may not read it. If he does read it, that can be a huge help.

🌺 If you are having a hard day, don’t hide it. Try not to be shy or embarrassed about letting the doctor see how bad things are for you. Remember: it’s half an hour of your life. You will never see this person again.

🌺 If you have not been regularly seeing a doctor, or not been following treatment, it may be a good idea to Explain Why You Haven’t Been to the Doctor

🌺 It is usually recommended to just be yourself. If someone acts one way at their regular doctor, and then a totally different way at the Social Security doctor, this may cause problems.

If You Have ME, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Lyme or a Related Condition

Many people with these conditions hate being sent to a mental health appointment and try hard to prove that their condition is physical not mental.  This may make you feel better emotionally, but it may also cause you to lose your disability case. Learn a bit more about: How to Include Mental Health.

After the Exam

You may find it helpful to read your CE report. There are a few ways to do this:

🌺 In some states, when they write you to schedule your CE they may send you a form asking if you would like a copy of the report sent to your own doctor. If they send you this form, that makes life easier. Just fill out the form and after the appointment contact your own doctor, and hope your doctor is willing to share the report with you.

🌺 Some states don’t give you the form. You can contact your disability examiner, or send a written letter, requesting a copy of your CE report be sent to your doctor. Be sure to sign the letter and include your doctor’s contact information.

🌺 Some people have better luck getting copies of their CE reports than others. You may have to be a little persistent. If this is an initial application, you will probably need to wait until after the decision has been made.

🌺 If you are appealing or requesting reconsideration, you can Request a copy of your entire disability file. This is a super great thing to do! It will have your CE report, plus a whole lot more. This does not go to your doctor, they send it to YOU!  Here’s how to request your file and check your records.

🌺 If you are appealing, your lawyer should be able to access an electronic copy of your CE report. Ask your lawyer for a copy.

Read More

There are lots of articles floating around the internet about these CE exams, and you can find some here:

🌺 Physical Exams

🌺 Mental Exams

🌺 Someone tells the story of her CE

🌺 Video of a mental status exam. Your exam may be different than this.


Updated August 2017.  Please comment below with stories, questions, input or ideas. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working.

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