Study Finds Many Medical Practices Closed To Disabled Patients

Mar 18, 2013

A new survey of medical specialists by researchers in Springfield Massachusetts found many could not accommodate patients who use a wheelchair.   The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act  mandates that all medical practitioners must provide full and equal access. 

   Researchers from  Baystate Medical Center  called medical and surgical specialists in Boston and in three other U.S. cities  to make an appointment for a fictional patient in a wheelchair who cannot transfer without help from the chair to an exam table.  Twenty-two  percent of the 256 practices contacted said they could not see the patient, according to Dr. Tara Lagu, who led the study.

   Just nine  practices could not accommodate the patient in the wheelchair because the building is not accessible. More common was the inability to transfer the patient to a table in order to perform an exam. Gynecology had the highest rate of inaccessible practices at 44 percent.

   The original  research is reported  in an article in the journal “ Annals of Internal Medicine”   Lagu, the lead author, said the survey results provide one possible explanation for disparities in health care observed between people who use wheelchairs and the more able bodied.

   The medical offices contacted by the researchers were located in Boston, Dallas, Houston and Portland Oregon. The specific practices were not identified in the article.

   Martina Carroll, Systems Advocate at the Stavros Center for Independent Living in Amherst, said she was pleased a majority of the doctors contacted by the researchers would make the appointment for the patient in the wheelchair.

   Carroll said the disabled often go without critical medical care because of physical barriers in doctor’s offices.

   The team of researchers at Baystate led by Dr. Lagu discovered that even at the practices that would make the appointment for the patient in the wheelchair ,more than half planned to transfer the patient from the wheelchair to the exam table without the use of a lift.

   The Americans with Disabilities Act does not specify standards for exam table accessibility. Those requirements are expected to be spelled out in regulations that will be written later this year for the Affordable Care Act.