Survey finds surprising attitudes among physicians toward patients with disabilities

Survey finds surprising attitudes among physicians toward patients with disabilities

For the more than 61 million Americans with disabilities, everyday life can be full of challenges, especially when it comes to obtaining needed health care. New research shows a surprising factor behind this disparity in access to care: physicians’ attitudes.

A survey by Harvard Medical School researchers of more than 700 physicians in the U.S. led to some unexpected findings. More than 82% of the respondents agreed with the statement that people with significant disabilities have a worse quality of life than nondisabled people. This is at odds with previous research that has shown people with disabilities overall rate their quality of life as the same or better than those without a disability.

Perhaps the most important results were in the area of providing care. Only 40% reported they were very confident about their ability to provide the same quality of care to patients with a disability, and only 57% strongly agreed that they welcome patients with disabilities into their practices.

The study surveyed doctors across seven specialities: family medicine, general internal medicine, rheumatology, neurology, ophthalmology, orthopedic surgery and obstetrics-gynecology. These were chosen because physicians practicing in these areas tend to see many people with disabilities.

Interestingly, about 30% of the doctors surveyed said they or a family member has a significant disability.

More than 30 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990, the survey’s findings suggest challenges remain for ensuring equitable care for people with disabilities. The study’s authors said the results point to the need for more training on disability in all levels of medical education.

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