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Lengthy electronic medical files are clogging the review of SSD claims

When you went to your last doctor appointment, chances are he or she sat in front of a computer, and took notes of the visit into your electronic medical file.  Most physicians have already converted to electronic files, and those who haven’t soon will because of something called the HITECH Act — Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health.

There are pros and cons to electronic files.  Some patients feel their physician is staring at a computer screen instead of talking to them face-to-face, but they do see their visits being recorded in detail.  As the saying goes, “the devil is in the detail,” and the devil in this case is the length of the files.  It is not unusual for an electronic medical file to reach 2,000 to 3,000 pages — which would never happen with a paper file.  How could you possibly store hundreds of files of that length?  These long files have become a burden for those reviewing the medical records of Social Security Disability (SSD) claimants, including Social Security Administration staff and claimant representatives.

Ultimately, the people affected most are claimants themselves, because the review of medical records has added time to a claims process that already takes up to two and a half years before a decision on benefits are made.  Before electronic files, attorneys would request only the specific pages they needed from a file because they were charged per page by physicians’ offices.  Now, medical offices often choose to send the whole file — whatever the length — rather than spend time culling out what the attorney or SSA staff need.  This means the job of finding the necessary information is turned over to attorneys’ offices or SSA staff.  

Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) who conduct hearings and make decisions on SSD claims, cannot be expected to handle 40 to 50 cases a month if they have to read through such large files.  There is already a backlog of 1.1 million SSD claimants waiting for decisions on benefits.  While they wait, many are suffering from loss of income.  If you are one of those claimants, we will do everything we can to facilitate your claim, however, it may be time to get some “hi-tech” people working on a system for singling out just the information we need more quickly and efficiently.