A new study is highlighting the difficulty wheelchair-bound patients continue to have in accessing medical care, despite passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act a generation ago. Researchers at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield contacted more than 250 medical practices, such as ophthalmology, gynecology and endocrinology – in Boston, Portland, Oregon, Dallas and Houston – and tried to make an appointment for a hypothetical wheelchair-bound patient not able to move on their own to an exam table. 22% of the practices could not accommodate the patient. But Dr. Tara Lagu, the study’s lead author, says just 4% cited building accessibility as the reason.
“The majority of inaccessible practices were not able to transfer the patient from the wheelchair to the exam table.”
More disturbing, Lagu says, was a majority of practices that could transfer patients to an exam table would physically move them instead of using a lift or adjustable table, an approach that risks injury to both patient and staff. Lagu says accessibility, or its lack, continues to drive health care disparities between physically-impaired and able-bodied patients.
“If you think about gynecology as an example, if 44% of gynecologic practices are inaccessible to patients, it could be much harder for patients who use wheelchairs to get an appointment with a gynecologist. Which might prevent them from getting the preventive care that they need such as pap smears, which we know they get less often than their counterparts who are just like them but don’t use a wheelchair.”
The report is being published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which will be released Tuesday.