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Disabled Floridians may face discrimination from doctors

Floridians with disabilities have to deal with ignorance and discrimination on a regular basis. However, it seems that medical professionals would be more understanding and knowledgeable about disabilities. Sadly and surprisingly, that does not seem to be the case.

This is not just the perception of people with mental and physical disabilities and their families. It is borne out by multiple studies that have shown that disabled people get poorer quality health care, fewer screenings and less preventative care information than non-disabled people. In one study, researchers phoned medical offices in four cities asking to make an appointment for a person in a wheelchair. They were told by 20 percent of those they spoke to that the office did not have the equipment or trained staff to handle a wheelchair-bound patient. Even the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn't provide specific requirements for access to medical care.

Medical schools are at least partly to blame for this inability or unwillingness to deal with disabled patients. In a country where 20 percent of people have a mental or physical disability, less than one-fifth of medical schools teach budding doctors how to talk to, let alone treat, disabled patients. Over half of deans at our nation's medical schools even admit that their students don't know how to care for disabled patients.

The good news is that a few schools have begun to teach medical students how to handle patients with disabilities and feel more comfortable around disabled patients. As a physician at George Washington University noted, medical students learn about rare diseases that people have a one-in-a-million chance of contracting, yet few learn how to care for the millions of disabled people in this country. That's a frightening thought for baby boomers and post-boomers here in South Florida.

When a disabled person goes into an emergency room or other medical facility and treatment is delayed, denied or not handled appropriately, the experience is obviously frustrating. Far more importantly, the results can be serious and even deadly. People who believe they or someone they love did not receive prompt and adequate medical care because of their disability may have grounds for a medical malpractice suit and possibly other civil action. It's essential not to just accept this as the status quo but to stand up for your right to proper medical care.

Source: National Public Radio, "Doctors' Ignorance Stands In The Way Of Care For The Disabled" Leana Wen, May. 17, 2014

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