Physicians admit to turning away patients with disabilities

A recent study in Health Affairs found that physicians are hesitant to treat patients with disabilities and admit to being out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Physicians reported feeling overwhelmed by the requirements of the ADA, and that they were not reimbursed enough for required accommodations.

In order to conduct the study, researchers set up focus groups with physicians of various specialties, including primary care, and various practice sizes/types. Through these focus groups, researchers identified the following barriers to providing care for people with disabilities: physical accommodations; communication accommodations; knowledge, experience, and skills; structural barriers; and attitudes toward people with disabilities.

Physicians in the focus group also stated that they have a low percentage of patients with disabilities, which also discouraged them from setting up necessary accommodations. “…we already know there are tons of barriers to access for these patients to come in to begin with, so fewer of them come in than probably need to come in, and because very few come in, so it’s hard to make the argument to bring these things to bear for one or two patients.”

Focus group participants also discussed denying and discharging patients. Physicians cannot legally deny care to a patient with a disability under the ADA law. Some physicians said they denied disabled patients due to “not taking new patients” or “not taking their insurance.” Others stated they had to discharge patients because they could not provide the level of care required. Researchers stated they were unable to clarify whether these physicians were telling the truth as to why they could not treat the patients or whether they were excuses to not treat a disabled patient.