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Doctors Turning Away Patients With Disabilities


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More than two decades after the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, a new survey indicates that more than 20 percent of doctors’ offices remain inaccessible to those with special needs.

The finding comes from a “secret shopper” style poll of 256 randomly selected medical practices in Boston, Dallas, Houston and Portland, Ore. Researchers called to schedule an appointment for a fictitious patient, indicating that the individual used a wheelchair and was unable to transfer independently from the chair to an exam table.

Under the ADA, doctors are required to provide “full and equal access to their health care services and facilities.” Nonetheless, of the medical and surgical subspecialists phoned, 22 percent indicated that they could not accommodate the patient, researchers reported Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The reasons for turning away the fictitious patient varied, but most doctors cited an inability to transfer the patient from a wheelchair to an exam table. Meanwhile, nine practices indicated that their building was inaccessible.

Similarly, researchers found that some types of doctors were more likely to accommodate a patient with special needs than others. Gynecologists proved the least likely of the physicians polled, with 44 percent of those practices declining the patient. By comparison, just 4 percent of psychiatrists were inaccessible.

Researchers said the survey results highlight the need for physicians to be more aware of their obligations under the ADA.

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Comments (19 Responses)

  1. Sharon Mcdonald says:

    I just want to say that im not proud of the United States Of America,we are not America anymore., America is a follower of GOD,we are all GODS children.Our special needs people are a product of our FATHER(GOD)who made us all different.GOD puts servants here on earth to help others,and when our DR’s do not keep the oath that they took in medical school then in my book they FAILED.If I was a DR. I would not care what the system said,I went to school to learn how to help an heal the sick and the special ones,the system dont care for people,the people do.Whats wrong here,I mean come on people,a special needs child can be born to ANYONE,did the parents of a special needs child ask for it,well of course not,but did anyone ever think that GOD had a plan for the ones that do have a special needs child,maybe its because he sees where we are heading as a society which is not to good,and he knows that the parents of these kids will fight for the rights of these kids and im proud to say that I have a special daughter I will fight for till the end.I’ve gotten to where I hate being an AMERICAN,it doesnt stand for what it should be anymore,and American Government doesnt care for its AMERICAN people anymore..But DR’s if your not going to do your calling in which GOD planned for you,then you need to quit practicing cause we have enough against us without you being against us too,just saying..TY SHARON MCDONALD

  2. Roseanna Lowe says:

    the worst inability Iv come across is it seems all doctors offices that Iv been to since my stroke/brain bleed, are those darn doors-they are SO HEAVY to open up when a person only has 1 arm/hand to use-almost impossible to do. Iv thought seriously several times that maybe a class-action suit might help the problem -but something needs to be done because Im sure Im not the only one that has this problem…

  3. VMGillen says:

    This is not only a question of mobility – expecting a child with what I call we-ain’t-kidding autism to sit for hours in an over-crowded waiting room is also a denial of services, because that is pretty much guaranteed to end in either an “incident” or an elopement.

  4. D. C. says:

    Often, The reason is $$$. The sense that it is too much time, effort and forms to complete for the amount that Medicaid pays. And, if cash only (as many excellent disability-related offices are, due to demand), many people with disabilities cannot afford it.

    Professionals may be afraid to admit that they don’t get paid enough, since it is not politically correct.

  5. Dee Wheat says:

    D.C., they make sure they are paid well by scheduling four patients every fifteen minutes per doctor. The truth is they don’t want to take the time that “medically complex” patients require. If you want good, thoughtful medical care, see a nurse practitioner.

    And no, I’m not an N.P., but IM a retired RN who is medically complex despite maintaining pretty well for the most…..and I see a N.P. by choice.

  6. CJB says:

    I too had a doc refused to care for my daughter. At the time it made me very angry. I could not change that doctor’s attitude – so I moved on to another one who did want to see her. Do you really want to be seen by a doctor who doesn’t want to see you?

    The USA is no different than other cultures. Human nature is what it is.

    You will never advance any cause through violence or anger.

  7. Russ Campbell says:

    I am amazed at the level of ignorance among many of the posters to this article. Not all disabled people are autistic, or special needs, etc. Some people are ‘ok’ until something happened that caused them to be disabled, such as MS, Stroke, etc. When looking at issues that disabled encounter we can’t be so narrow minded, some people are disabled due to mental issues, some physical, we need to understand these conditions are what need to be taken into consideration, most disabled people have at least one other person who helps them daily, when someone(DR) says they can’t(for whatever reason) they probably are assuming that the disabled person has someone who helps them, so when the Dr says we can’t (whatever) they are probably looking for the ‘helper’ to say, well I will be there to help. It doesn’t seem that this was taken into consideration. However, if ANY Dr says our building is not accessible, then I would ask the Dr where is he/she going to meet us. And MOST people on disability who have worked have Medicare(doesnt pay a lot) not just Medicaid, that is an issue too, we must not just look at our own situation but the facts that effect ALL disabled people. All I am really saying is don’t assume EVERYONE is the same as YOU, because they are not, and isn’t that what we are trying to tell the Drs that don’t provide proper access?

  8. Milton Blackstone says:

    Not only medical Drs. but dentists are even harder to find. Even the “1-800 dentist” service has yet to come up with one in my area who will accept Med-cal. Same for anethiests (sp).

  9. says:

    I agree with Dee Wheat, this all boils down to money. Either due to the dr wanting to increase his fold or the government restricting Medicare costs. Most disabled patients are on Medicare or Medicaid and cost the government TONS (this is in government terms, not mine). I’ll tell you what folks, this ‘cut back’ will not stop at those who are disabled, it’ll continue non-stop from the poorest through the middle class.

  10. karen Borland says:

    this is not at all shocking! We need to educate health care professionals on folks with disabilities as well as the ADA. It’s frustrating the lack of services that are available for folks with disabilites.

  11. J.R. says:

    This is too ashamed for the doctors can’t provide accessibility features for the people with disabilities. Doctors should meet the medical needs of people, no matter what their phjsical conditions are.

  12. Maggie Speight says:

    I am a family support worker for the department of developmental disabilities. I myself find it incredible that people with developmental, intellectual disabilities are been declined for psychiatrist services by psychiatrist with the vague excuse of not having the expertise to work with persons with developmental and or intellectual disabilities. I am personally concern about this mental health issues with our ID population as well as other ongoing issues from these professional providers. Where do they go? Who will treat them and who will take the responsibility to make sure our individuals are treated with the respect and dignity they all deserve as human Beings when seeking mental health treatment. There is a great amount of discrimination when a patient gets turn away from receiving mental help by any certified and or licensed provider because of their disabilities.

  13. Cari Watrous says:

    some of the comments are scary. I have no special needs – my needs involve food clothing shelter love friendship – and they don’t seem any different than my non-disabled peers. How I meet my needs might be different, but my needs aren’t special. I am not a gift from God anymore than the next person is. I am not on Medicaid and I am employed and married. My docs are wonderful guys with fully accessible offices, physically, because I wouldn’t see a doc who’s office was not. When there have been physical barriers, I have informed them of the problem and if it wasn’t corrected, I found another doc, perhaps I should have sued. I can really commiserate with the commenter talking about the lack of access provided through overshceduling. I have had to sit and sit (on a back with deteriorating disks and advanced stenosis) because they schedule too many patients at a time to balance the costs of running a medical practice – including outrageously high malpractice insurance – and the limited reimbursement insurance provides. I do feel for them but enough already.

  14. Autismmom says:

    None of the private practice medical providers where I live accept Medicaid; therefore my son has to go to the free clinic. The Pledge of Allegiance needs to be amended so the last statement is “…with liberty and justice for some.”

  15. Marie Barraclough says:

    I am the Mother and Guardian of a 39 year old man with Spastic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy. As Kansas residents we are being forced to except the new Medicaid program known as Kancare.

    In calling the health care provider for my Adult son to coordinate services for his future health care needs. I spoke to his Dentist office asking if which of the three Managed Care companies they are contracted with and I was told that “we will no longer be excepting new medicaid patients”. I believe that this is the reality of our future in the New Kancare World.

  16. Rebecca says:

    I live in Springfield Oregon. I have twin 4 year olds with autism. They are also on medical from the state that WILL NOT pay for the diagnosis of autism. But my pediatrician is AMAZING and was willing to help find a loophole in order for them to get the help they needed. They have always accomidated ppl in wheel chairs and they are probably the only doctors that I know of that when necessary acts upon morals instead of “by the book” because we are human beings with feelings and needs and sometimes rules just doesn’t matter to those docs when a person needs help. So please…..there are wonderful doctors out there who will help even people who cannot afford their own insurance.

  17. Margaret Campbell says:

    Our daughter’s pediatrician began seeing adults too when her disabled children patients began becoming adults. Now she sees anyone who has the insurance she is contracted with or pay cash. Her prices are well below the average. But here’s the kicker; she PRAYS for her patients privately and when our Beth became too big to transfer, she began coming to our home where we have equipment to move her and a raised bed making it easier to examine her. Praise God! She takes her own calls, 24 hours a day including holidays. Her office hours vary in order to accommodate her patients’ needs and still be mom for her special needs children of her own who are now adults trying to get through college. Hats off and hearts full for her in our home!

  18. N.Hoover says:

    I have noted that throughout my dchild’s 21 yrs, only ONE physician has helped. Changing from Pediatrician to Regular Doctor took a few years and still to date, no one has done anything to help. In 2002/2003 one Neurologist stated *** has a “Neurological Disease that has yet to be determined”. And that was that. The last test done was an MRI of the brain in Jan 1994. NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE SINCE THAT TIME, not even after the “Neurological Free Clinic” said (quoted above)! The free clinics are appreciated, however, unless there is a follow-up afterwards, then their effectiveness, free or not, become
    nothing but heartache and fear for the PAID DOCTORS DO NOTHING AT ALL. And as these children grow up, the help is less and less, they go from “children with disabilities” to “seniors with disabilities (and they are only 19 years old!).” And if you want to move to another state with BETTER care, watch out, if your child is over 18 and you are not by law considered parents, but Legal Guardians, and have to go to court to “explain why you want to move”! IF YOU EVEN CONSIDER MOVING FOR BETTER CARE FOR YOUR CHILD, DO IT BEFORE THEY TURN 18, THEN THE COURT HAS NO SAY IN THE MATTER! Sick of my child not having the same medical care everyone else gets and sick of her not doing anything during winter months, which here are about 8-9 months, temps in the average of -25 degrees (below zero) and snow which can start after Labor Day and not stop until June 1st of EACH YEAR, on average!

  19. RAY GRAGLIA says:

    I was employed at the US Dept of Veterans Affairs from 1998-2010.
    I was last posted at a CBOC (Community Based Outpatient Clinic) The medical staff, nurses, and lab techs were very supportive and open to our veterans, many of whom were disabled, but the building we were in could have been more disabled friendly. There could have been more disabled parking spaces to begin start.

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