Courts should require any doctor finding or denying a psychological or psychiatric disability to actually examine the claimant in person. This really should be the rule for any medical disability claim, but such a personal hands-on examination should be absolutely required when the disability claim has a psychological or psychiatric basis.
In ERISA cases, to save money and to make it easier for their doctors to file biased medical reports, insurance companies have increasingly taken to offering reports in which their doctor has never even seen the claimant, let alone personally examined him or her. The insurance company physicians merely review the reports of the insured’s treating doctors and try to punch as many holes as possible in the doctors’ claims of disability.
We suspect that M.D.s are similar to lawyers when it comes to evaluating a client, a patient or a case. Face-to-face impressions are important to determining whether a client or patient is telling the truth.
Facial expressions, gestures, vocal volume and cadence, eye blinks, tics, face blushes, hesitations in responding and general demeanor are all evaluated subconsciously by a doctor or lawyer, as a package, in coming to decision about the veracity of the person they are talking with. Years of experience in making such face-to-face evaluations and then checking them against what actually happens, makes these evaluations most valuable in diagnosis.
Reading a report of someone else’s impressions gives no clue as to how trustworthy the patient’s description of his or her condition was. This is a problem even when the disability is based on physical abilities:
• Can you raise your arm higher than here?
• Can you climb a ladder?
• Can you sit for more than 10 minutes?
Only the examiner, personally seeing the effort to try to accomplish the objective, can have a valid opinion. Reviewing a report on paper gives no valid insight.
When a disability is psychiatric, clues are even more nuanced. An examiner has to see the response as well as hear it. The examiner has to observe body language as well as other subconscious conduct, to arrive at a valid evaluation. Only then can the expert form a reliable opinion (still not a certainty) as to whether the claimant is telling the truth.
Interpreting body language is a must in psychiatric diagnosis. Using “paper reviews” instead of actual clinical examinations, leads to only one conclusion:
Insurance companies don’t really want to know!