Most people would assume that the last places people with disabilities would find a lack of accessible features and an understanding of their unique needs would be in doctors’ offices and other medical facilities. Sadly, according to a study published in Health Affairs and anecdotal evidence from patients, that’s not the case.
The authors of the study conducted focus groups with doctors with a promise of anonymity so that they could be honest about the challenges of treating disabled patients. Some even admitted to finding ways not to treat them – including telling them they no longer practiced medicine.
Refusing treatment to a patient because they’re disabled is illegal. That doesn’t stop some doctors from sending people away. One disabled man says doctors have told him, “I really don’t know what to do with you. Maybe you should go elsewhere.”
What challenges did doctors cite?
According to some physicians in the focus groups, people in wheelchairs are the greatest challenges. Some doctors don’t even have a way to get their weight. Among the places the doctors admitted they’d sent patients in wheelchairs to be weighed were zoos, cattle processing plants and grain elevators.
Physical disabilities weren’t the only kind doctors discussed. One physician said that every time a particular deaf patient had an appointment, he had to pay a sign language interpreter to be there for the visit.
Too often, disabled patients don’t speak up for themselves because they fear their doctor will think they’re being difficult or asking for special treatment. You can and should advocate for yourself or bring a loved one who isn’t afraid to advocate for you. If you or a loved one suffered harm because a doctor didn’t fulfill their duty of care due to a disability, it’s wise to get legal guidance to determine whether you have a case of medical malpractice.