Reducing disparity by enabling doctors with disability

Around 2.21% of the population in India fall under the “disabled” or “divyang” category. Disability includes both physical as well as mental disabilities. Physical disabilities include paralysis or loss of structure and function of any part of the body. Mental disabilities include all kinds of disorders on the autism spectrum and learning disorders. It is important to provide the required assistance to help these individuals live better lives without any roadblocks. 

Medical assistance to these individuals can be quite a tricky task to accomplish. People with disabilities feel hesitant to talk to their respective healthcare providers for many reasons. Their disabilities can also hold them back on many fronts. A person who suffers from an autistic disorder may feel scared of being touched or making eye contact with anyone let alone a doctor, and a doctor needs to be able to make contact with his patient to do the preliminary tests. Bringing in doctors who also suffer from any kind of disability may help improve the patients’ state of mind. 

In 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act stated that people with disabilities should not be “excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently than other individuals because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services,” in higher education and employment. This federal law brought in a mild increase in the number of disabled students entering the medical field. However, some of the American institutions still fail to provide accommodation for most of their abled as well as disabled students. In India, many medical institutions have opened up to many students with locomotor abilities since the 1995 Disability Act. However, many of the disabled graduates were not allowed to work in Central Health Services until Dr Satendra Singh changed the policies. 

Having more medical students and doctors with disabilities could start to reduce disability-related health disparities. Medical students with disabilities would give an idea about what it’s like to live with a disability, thus making their peers more aware. Administrators and staff may even start reconsidering their education patterns and include more disability training if there are more disabled students on medical school campuses. A more diverse workforce — one that includes doctors with disabilities — would benefit both the patients and doctors. Patients of various backgrounds tend to feel more comfortable with physicians like them, and that’s true for people with disabilities as well. 

Technologies used by doctors with disabilities

Researchers at the University of Michigan created a special device that lets a physician-in-training, who uses a wheelchair, perform routine physical exams. The device lets the physician get close to the patient to examine the nose, throat, ears, eyes, and skin, all without causing any kind of physical strain to the physician and the patient. It’s essentially a handheld wired camera and a display that can be placed nearby. The video can be zoomed in on, enhanced, and viewed through different devices.

The device has a long, flexible wire and a camera in its speculum, which is the cone-shaped piece at the end of a standard medical otoscope used to examine a patient’s ears. The system displays images on any mobile device. Adding video recording, for example, would provide a variety of opportunities for all doctors, such as looking back at older recordings to see if a condition has changed, sending the recording to a specialist, or using it to teach medical students.

Healthcare professionals use auscultation (listening to the sounds of various organs using a stethoscope) to routinely examine the circulatory, respiratory, and/or gastrointestinal systems. Auscultation is an essential part of diagnosis as it is one of the preliminary checks down when you go to visit a doctor. The art of auscultation requires a level of clinical skill, and it heavily relies on optimal listening conditions allowing the practitioners to hear and detect any anomalies. 

Offering potential stethoscope solutions to professionals who suffer from hearing loss can provide hope and enable more doctors with hearing disabilities to provide their services. While viable options are available, there are technological limitations that can be quite frustrating. Audiologists should have multiple options for the kind of hearing loss a doctor suffers from. One such amplified stethoscope eKuore Pro can connect to a hearing aid through Bluetooth and it increases the sound quality. It can also record and share patient information. 

Doctors with disabilities are more likely to be more empathetic and they can easily understand the mood variations and fears their patients may have. Including more diversity of doctors can greatly improve the service of healthcare provided to patients with disabilities, thus bettering their quality of life.

Author: Parvathi Nair

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