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Study finds doctors harbor negative views of individuals with disabilities

A study recently published by the Health Affairs Journal found that more than sixty-one million Americans have disabilities, and increasing evidence shows that they experience health care disparities – with one major cause involving physicians’ perceptions of people with disabilities.

“In our survey of 714 practicing US physicians nationwide, 82.4 percent reported that people with significant disability have worse quality of life than nondisabled people,” the study said. “Only 40.7 percent of physicians were very confident about their ability to provide the same quality of care to patients with disability, just 56.5 percent strongly agreed that they welcomed patients with disability into their practices, and 18.1 percent strongly agreed that the health care system often treats these patients unfairly.”

Female doctors working at academic medical centers were most likely to be welcoming toward patients with disabilities, the study found.

“That physicians have negative attitudes about patients with disability wasn’t surprising,” said Lisa I. Iezzoni, lead author of the study published this month in the journal Health Affairs and a health care policy researcher at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. “But the magnitude of physicians’ stigmatizing views was very disturbing.”

“We wouldn’t expect most physicians to say that racial or ethnic minorities have a lower quality of life, yet four-fifths of physicians made that pronouncement about people with disabilities. That shows the erroneous assumptions and a lack of understanding of the lives of people with disability on the part of physicians,” Iezzoni said.

The researchers said their findings highlight questions about access and quality of care.

“Our results clearly raise concern about the ability of the health care system to ensure equitable care for people with disability,” said Eric G. Campbell of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus who worked on the study.

The issue of equal access to health care for people with disabilities has come to the forefront in the past year as the pandemic has strained hospitals causing care rationing.

The researchers indicated that they plan to further study how doctors’ perceptions about disabilities are affecting disparities in health care.

Sources: Health Affair Journal, Disability Scoop

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