According to the US Census Bureau, 15.1 percent of Puerto Rican residents have a disability, compared to just 8.6 percent of the general US population. But how comfortable are physicians, particularly residents and fellows, with treating patients with disabilities?
In the poster, “Physician Comfort on Evaluating Patients with Disabilities in a Hospital in the Southern Region of Puerto Rico: A Quality Improvement Project,” study authors explore that question. The team presented their work in the Poster Hall at the 2023 ACGME Annual Educational Conference, held February 23-25, 2023, in Nashville, Tennessee. Dr. Jose E. Colón Cortés answered the ACGME’s questions about the poster on behalf of the team.
Poster Title: Physician Comfort on Evaluating Patients with Disabilities in a Hospital in the Southern Region of Puerto Rico: A Quality Improvement Project
Primary Author: Dr. María Gratacós-Arena
Co-Authors: Gabriel Chardón, Alejandra Baez-Rivera, Ariel Collazo, MD, José E. Colón Cortés, MD, Orlando Torres, MD
ACGME: Can you briefly describe your research project for us?
Colón: Our research consists of learning how comfortable medical residents and attendings are with managing patients with disabilities, how they keep up to date on managing patients with disabilities, and finally finding the physician’s awareness of the resources available in the institution. A survey of 23 questions based on [Alexandra Freed] Santoro’s 2018 study [“Attitudes and Knowledge of Healthcare Providers Regarding Patients with Intellectual Disability and the Impact on Analogue Clinical Decision-Making”] was created to address our objectives.
ACGME: What inspired you to do this project?
Colón: According to the 2018 National Disability Status Report, Puerto Rico has one of the highest overall prevalence rates of disabilities in the US. Our principal investigator, Dr. Orlando Torres, is an adamant advocate for children with disabilities in Puerto Rico; he was our inspiration. Through his compassion and dedication, he enlightened us to raise awareness about the health disparities seen in this population and ultimately improve the access and quality of care.
ACGME: What did you discover?
Colón: Based on our results, we concluded that most physicians do not feel comfortable treating patients with disabilities and rarely receive education on how to treat this population. Sixty percent of the physicians were unaware of the resources available for this population. Therefore, this places patients with disabilities at a medical disadvantage in comparison to the rest of the population.
ACGME: What was the main takeaway?
Colón: As an institution, we can find ways to improve existing protocols and implement new ones to address the health disparities. One of our short-term goals is to implement a basic medical-adapted sign language course for residents and medical students.
ACGME: Who could benefit from this?
Colón: Not only the patients with disabilities, but also the entire medical community.
ACGME: Any additional follow-up plans?
Colón: We have begun expanding the project to the other residency programs and hospitals around the island in order to gather enough data. This way we can raise awareness among government officials and ask them to allocate resources to improve the quality of care for patients and the physician-patient relationship.