Many Docs Biased Against Patients With Disabilities
“A lot of people with disabilities have been to hospitals for treatment for COVID or COVID-like symptoms, and they’ve been treated differently,” Deputy Legal Director Tom Stenson said.
Disability Rights Oregon was recently implicated in a case in eastern Oregon which was one of many highlighted in a NPR story of people with disabilities receiving inequitable medical care.
“We’ve had a number of cases that we’ve dealt with around medical and legal issues like this one where, essentially, medical staff are encouraging patients, even those who have expressed a relatively clear wish for all help, to convert to a do not resuscitate, not intubate status, primarily because of their disability, ”Stenson said. “And it is extremely disturbing for us.”
As part of its work, Disability Rights Oregon contacted hospital authorities, opened investigations and reported irregularities. This can lead to a hospital changing the course of treatment or moving the patient to another hospital, Stenson said.
Longer-term solutions to strengthen equity in the system include incorporating accommodations into the health care system for patients with disabilities, Stenson said. It can be like adding equipment that makes an examination table more accessible or spending more time helping a patient with autism become more comfortable.
The fact that people with disabilities are now a more visible part of the community than they once were is also helping to change attitudes, Stenson said.
“It’s easy to be scared or have negative feelings towards something you don’t know,” Stenson said. “So the most important thing is that people with disabilities have a full life in their community, because if a person with an intellectual disability is no longer an abstraction, but someone can relate that to someone they know who has a busy life, which has friends, family members, whom they see in the community, then it is easier to see this person as fully human. “
The study, published in the February issue of the journal Health affairs, concluded that all levels of medical education should include more training on disability.
Iezzoni said, “I think we just have to be hypervigilant, whenever there is training on disparities related to race and ethnicity, LGBTQ and other types of populations that have experienced disparities, that disability should be mentioned and that doctors just need to be educated. And they also need to be made aware of the law, that it is illegal to make decisions about care based on perceptions of health. ‘a lower quality of life for people with disabilities than they might have. “
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