Less than 20% of medical schools specialize in teaching students how to talk with disabled patients about their needs. However, nearly 20% of Americans are physically or mentally disabled. Particularly in locum positions where healthcare professionals are always thrown in new environments with every assignment, should we be more equipped with knowledge of handling the special needs of our patients?
One issue our society has is that licensing boards aren’t requiring that clinicians demonstrate that field of knowledge. The shocking thing about our education systems is that some recent grads aren’t even confident in their abilities to handle a patient with a wheelchair or surprised that you still need to ask patients about sexual activity even if they are physically disabled! This poses a major ethics problem. A physician should aim to provide the best care for every patient…equally. However, if a doctor receives a chart of a patient that may have more specific treatment needs, some flat out refuse to bother.
One study that was conducted in four major cities found that 1 out of 5 unsuspecting physicians refused to treat an obese and disabled patient. Their reasoning was that they didn’t have the proper facilities to handle different situations like inability to transfer patients from wheelchairs to examination tables. About 4% of the surveyed facilities reported that their buildings were inaccessible. That poses yet another issue. How can we practice medicine when we don’t even have wheelchair ramp access into our workplaces?
Physical handicaps aren’t the only type patient that some physicians are unable to treat properly. A lot of physicians simply are ignorant to the correct ways to communicate with the patients who have mental retardation. In the past, only specialized institution doctors received education on how to treat their needs. However, it was a different time. Back then most of those patients lived in those facilities so receiving care was easy. These days, less than 1% of developmentally disabled people are in institutions. These patients are falling through the cracks, ignored by practices that have not been accommodating. Frequently, the lack in knowledge for proper habits for treating the guests that can’t communicate well is leaving a large group of people without the care they deserve. It’s not right to force adults to stay in pediatric care for much longer than their peers simply because our healthcare education is lacking.
With disabilities so common with the people that we’re treating, wouldn’t it make sense to increase our time spent learning how to handle their needs? Perhaps, we can spend less time focusing on those rare diseases that we likely won’t ever need to treat and just a little more into knowing protocol for mentally or physically disabled.
According to one study, it was found that a single 90 minute training session made medical students at South Carolina University far more comfortable handling the needs of the disabled. Considering the ease that it could be to alleviate the discomfort in treating these patients, it only makes sense that something gets done to handle this issue. Until our educational systems can grant more focus to learning care methods for the disabled, physicians should take it upon themselves to ensure that they can handle any situation