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Strategies for Managing Disabled Physicians

From HCPro's Medical Staff Briefing, August 23, 2011

You may not have any disabled physicians on your medical staff currently, but that doesn't mean one won't apply tomorrow.

Technological advances that allow persons with disabilities to do more and a society that is more ­accepting of those with disabilities may result in an influx of physicians who require accommodations. In addition, the number of aging physicians on medical staffs is ­rising, and hospitals and medical staffs may be faced with issues such as Parkinson's disease, multiple ­sclerosis, ­Alzheimer's, and other degenerative diseases that worsen with age. To effectively manage the needs of disabled ­physicians, medical staffs should start putting together an action plan today.

Understanding the lingo

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was ­designed to ensure that during the job application process and beyond, employers treat persons with disabilities in the same way they treat those who do not have disabilities.

"What the ADA does is ­attempt to ensure that you do not make employment decisions based on fear, ­ignorance, prejudice, or assumptions," says ­Robert ­Silverstein, Esq., principal at ­Powers Pyles Sutter & Verville, PC, in ­Washington, DC. The ADA does not attempt to give persons who have disabilities priority over those who do not; rather, it aims to ensure that individuals are judged on their qualifications.

Before medical staff leaders can even begin to put a plan in place for managing and supporting disabled physicians, they need to understand two terms used throughout the ADA:

Disability: The Social Security Administration, the ADA, and the World Health Organization have different definitions of this term. For the purposes of discussing physicians who are employees of a healthcare facility or who act as agents of that facility, it's best to rely on the ADA's definition:

Someone who has (A) physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities …(B) a record of such impairment; or (C) being regarded as ­having such an impairment.

Consider the following examples of disabilities:
  • Sensory (e.g., deafness, blindness)
  • Autoimmune or degenerative (e.g., multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease)
  • Injury caused by trauma (e.g., car accident, fall)
  • Developmental (e.g., disorders on the autism ­spectrum, dyslexia)
  • Mental (e.g., depression)
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