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Health care shortfalls present among those with disabilities

People with developmental disabilities find it more difficult to find adequate and quality health care, according to a study from Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center.

The study showed health-care disparities between people with developmental disabilities, and those without, begin in childhood and continue throughout life — often worsening with age.

In the study, disparities were found across four indicators: health status, health-care utilization, quality of health care, access to health care and unmet health-care needs.

Children with developmental disabilities are three times more likely than people without developmental disabilities to have issues such as unmet health-care needs, the study found.

Among adults ages 31-64, people with developmental disabilities reported to have problems accessing needed health-care services at a rate almost five times higher than people without developmental disabilities.

As for those 65 and older, people with developmental disabilities were more than seven times more likely to have trouble obtaining necessary care as others without developmental disabilities.

According to the findings, people with developmental disabilities have higher health-care demands due to poorer and more complex health conditions. However, they have less chances to see specialists, make same-day appointments for urgent health needs, obtain prescriptions for their disabilities and to get certain services like dental and vision care.

“Individuals with developmental disabilities are a particularly vulnerable population,” said Jessica Prokup, a medical student and lead author of the study. “I kept seeing how people throughout their lifetime often don’t get the care they deserve in all aspects of their lives.”

Developmental disabilities are chronic, lifelong conditions — like autism — that impair physical or cognitive functioning. However, the disparities in health care are severely understudied. While most current research focuses on disabilities in general, few of them specifically examine and quantify the health-care needs of people with developmental disabilities, Prokup said.

The study used data from the 2015 Ohio Medicaid Assessment Survey, a random telephone survey that interviewed both medicaid and non-medicaid individuals.

Susan Havercamp, associate professor of psychiatry and co-author of the study, said the primary reason for the disparities is a lack of training on how to treat people with developmental disabilities.

“It’s a small group, but the small group has a lot of health-care needs,” Havercamp said.

Health-care providers often get minimal training on disabilities, which, she said, is a problem.

To solve the problem, schools and hospitals should incorporate education on disability to medical students, nurses and physicians in their academics and practice, Havercamp said.

“People with disabilities need the same health care as everyone else,” Havercamp said. “Everybody in every [health care] specialty should have some confidence and awareness of disabilities.”

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