Healthcare Challenges that Patients with Disabilities Face
The Americans with Disabilites Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and requires that health care organizations provide full and equal access to people with disabilities. Despite this, it is reported that “patients with disabilities may be transferred in an unsafe manner onto examination tables and other equipment, receive less preventative care and fewer examinations, and report longer waits to see subspecialists.” In addition, another study found that "22% of the 256 facilities surveyed in four US cities could not accommodate a fictional patient with obesity and hemiparesis who used a wheelchair and could not self-transfer to an examination table."
Dr. Tara Lagu hypothesizes that there are many factors that may be contributing to shocking levels of inaccessbility for healthcare services. The first being that physicians are not trained to care for patients with disabilites. Another issue may be that despite recognizing the issues of access, physicians may incorrectly believe that changes are too expensive and will only benefit a few patients.
In addition to issues with accessibility, patients with disabilites also face issues of implicit bias. For example, some physicians hold false assumptions about patients with disabilites' quality of life and incorrectly assume high rates of functional decline. In fact, after a period of adjustment, people with chronic disease and disabilities often rate their quality of life to be higher than their physicians and caregiver rate them to have. Self-reported quality of life for patients with disabilities is not significantly different than that of patients without disabilities.
There are also many misconceptions regarding exernal assistance that many patients with disabilities need. One study found that more than a half of surveyed hospitalized patients without disabilities with serious illness equated health states such as incontinence, requiring a breathing tube, relying on a feeding tube, or needing care from others all of the time with death. In reality, however, individuals with these states still live meaningful lives.
Healthcare is supposed to be accessible and avaliable to all, however, the field is currently failing patients with disabilities. Physicians must actively work against abelist biases and ensure they are working towards the benefit of all of their patients. Caralyst is working to support patients with disabilities by enabling physicians to treat patient populations that they have a unique interest in working with. Patients are able to indicate what their specific needs are and find physicians that are able to meet them.