Biases, we all have them, whether they be conscious or unconscious. The important thing is what a person does with those biases and if they are of concern to them or not. To me, biases are preconceived notions that a person has, which leads to tendencies, feelings, opinions, etc. towards a particular person/group. Teacher, police officers, human service workers, business owners; you name it, people of all professions exhibit biases, including doctors, which this post will address.
Doctors, the person to whom we trust to take care of the most important worldly possession, our health. We literally put our lives in their hands, hoping that they will do the best for us. So, what about those biases? What if a doctor puts those biases on their patients? Again, this can be unintentional. I will tell you what can happen, there can be a growing mistrust of the healthcare system, thus a decline in care. Or, on the flip side, there can be a lack of quality of care given by the doctor.
This year, a CNN article reported on a Harvard Medical School study that was conducted about the patient relationship among doctors and those with disabilities. More than 82% of doctors surveyed reported they believe individuals with significant disabilities have a poorer quality of life than those without disabilities.
The researchers said the degree of this widespread belief is “disturbing.” The study found that 56% of doctors said they would welcome patients with disabilities into their practice. Hmmmm, I didn’t realize that someone with a disability could be refused treatment based on this factor, especially with the ADA. In my life, I have had doctors openly admit they don’t have familiarity with Hydrocephalus, my medical condition. To which in the study, 40.7% of doctors said they were “very confident” in providing the same quality of service to those with disabilities, as their non disabled counterparts. But, never have I been refused treatment. The same goes for my blindness.
Some steps that need to be taken from this study are first, recognition that there is a problem, biases present. If this happens, then there can be corrective measures taken so that those biases don’t show up in an interaction. Making sure that all patients are asked the same questions, offered the same patient education, and overall, given the same care.
Secondly, providing curriculum that gives doctors the opportunity to learn about varying disabilities and how it impacts “quality of life.” I believe hearing first hand about these conditions, as well as being given the opportunity to do home studies and hear what it is like for a person with a disability to navigate their life can be helpful. I participated in a year long self advocacy fellowship through the LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) Program, where medical professionals of various disciplines learned about intellectual/developmental disabilities, which included hearing from the patients themselves. It was a great learning experience for myself and them, as it was self reported.
Finally, simply take the time to ask the patient how they can be best served. Actually, all patients should be asked this question, as one size does not fit all. Be present, be understanding, and be aware.