70% of physicians unaware of how to treat someone with a disability

American Disability Act
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Researchers from Mass General have found that US physicians lack a basic understanding on how to care for and treat people with disabilities

Passed in 1990, the American Disability Act (ADA) is a civil rights law in place to protect people from being discriminated against based on disability in everyday life and within healthcare, however 32 years after its introduction it has become apparent that most physicians lack understanding of how to be accommodating to those with disabilities as is required of them by law.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) reported during a survey they found that more than a third knew little or nothing about their legal requirements as illustrated in the ADA and more than 70% did not know who determines the “reasonable accommodations” required to provide equitable care to people with disabilities.

25% of the population have some form of disability and despite being one quarter of the entire population “they often confront barriers to basic health care services such as physical examinations, weight measurement, and effective communication with their physicians,” said lead author Dr Lisa I. Iezzoni.

“To achieve more equitable care and social justice for patients with disability, considerable improvements are needed to educate physicians about making healthcare delivery systems more accessible and accommodating” said Iezzoni.

The ADA specifies the parameters at which healthcare is supposed to perform when treating someone with a disability, it requires physicians and patients to collaborate on determining what reasonable accommodations are needed to ensure that patients receive accessible and equitable care.

How was this information gathered?

Researchers conducted a nationwide survey of 714 US physicians in outpatient practices in order to understand the extent to which the American Disability Act is understood and followed within healthcare.

What did the study reveal?

  • 36% had little or no knowledge about their legal responsibilities under ADA
  • 71% answered incorrectly about who determines reasonable accommodations
  • 21% did not know who is obligated to pay for these accommodations.
  • 68% felt they were at risk for ADA lawsuits

Lezzoni said: “The lack of knowledge about who makes accommodation decisions raises troubling questions about healthcare quality and equity […] “all patients with disabilities should ask their physician’s office staff about accommodating their needs and preferences when they schedule an appointment.”

This latest study from Mass General shows the inequalities and disparities that those with disabilities experience within the healthcare system and illustrates the need for more comprehensive training for physicians on the issues facing disabled people.

Senior author Eric G. Campbell, PhD, a survey scientist at the University of Colorado further commented that “medical schools are currently training students about combatting racism, and there should also be training in combatting discrimination against people with disability, also known as ‘ableism,’” and “every practicing physician can expect to see increasing numbers of people with disability, and they need to know how to accommodate them.”

Find the full study here

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