During the working years, rheumatic conditions are the foremost cause of disability in the United States. Disability evaluation for Social Security applicants and Workers' Compensation patients is commonplace in orthopedic practices. Yet, formal education in this aspect of patient care is rare both during and after residency. Because of a lack of understanding and sophistication the physician who knows the patient better than any other evaluator often play a minor role in the determination of disability. Disability Evaluation Under Social Security—A Handbook for Physicians lists the medical criteria necessary for qualification. Severely disabled arthritis patients will not always fit into these various categories and may have to be considered under the rule of medical equivalency. Workers' Compensation statutes vary somewhat from state to state but generally include disability criteria. Familiarity with these criteria and the process involved will allow the orthopedist to communicate more meaningfully with administrators and will reduce much of the frustration and some of the cost inherent in this system. When subjective complaint (illness) is in excess of apparent organic pathology (disease), team evaluation under the direction of the treating physician will help sort out the dilemma and develop a treatment plan. One hopes that this will bring the illness more in line with the disease, and thus reduce the disability.
From the Departments of Orthopaedics and Rheumatology, University of Southern California, and the Arthritis Treatment Center, Orthopaedic Hospital of Los Angeles.
* Associate Clinical Professor of Orthopaedics, University of Southern California, and Director of Arthritis Service, Orthopaedic Hospital of Los Angeles.
** Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California.