1 in 5 practices likely violate disability law

If a wheelchair-bound patient called your office to make an appointment, would you be able to accommodate him or her? If not, you're far from alone, according to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. You also may be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), according to Reuters Health.

For the study, a research team led by Tara Lagu, M.D., from the Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., had medical students call specialty practices, including gynecologists, urologists and ophthalmologists in four states, posing as a 218-pound patient who was wheelchair-bound due to complications from a stroke.

Of the 256 practices surveyed:

  • 56 (22 percent) reported they could not accommodate the patient
  • 9 (4 percent) reported the building was inaccessible
  • 47 (18 percent) reported inability to transfer a patient from a wheelchair to an examination table
  • 22 (9 percent) reported use of height-adjustable tables or a lift for transfer

The need to transfer patients manually from wheelchairs to exam tables is particularly problematic, according to Reuters, as it risks potential injury to both patients and staff. Rachel Markley, a 22-year-old student with spinal muscular atrophy who was not involved in the study, told Reuters she's been placed on exam tables with elevated backs and felt herself sliding off. Because of her condition, Markley sometimes even has to be carried all the way from the hallway to the exam table. "That can be embarrassing, depending on who's around," she said.

According to lead researcher Lagu, if the practices surveyed were to turn away real patients because they were unable to accommodate their limited mobility, they would most likely be in violation of the ADA.

"They were very willing to explain to us why they couldn't accommodate the patient. That said to us that they were unaware they were violating federal law," Lagu said, adding that future regulations on specific required equipment could help clarify for doctors how the ADA applies to them.

To learn more:
- read the article from Reuters Health
- see the abstract from the Annals of Internal Medicine

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