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Physicians reminded about accommodating people with disabilities

Saskatchewan’s physicians are reminded to think about how they can accommodate patients with disabilities inside their clinics or practices.

The Ministry of Health began surveying regional health authorities in the spring on the accessibility of their facilities, not only physical access from outside, but the equipment inside such as examination tables. The survey has not yet been completed.

In the meantime, Saskatchewan’s physicians take the issue of accessibility for all patients seriously, said Saskatchewan Medical Association president Dr. Joanne Sivertson.

"Physicians are in the business of providing care, and clearly we cannot fulfil our duty if patients cannot access that care,” said Dr. Sivertson. "The SMA has begun discussing ways that we can assist our members in providing better access to care within their offices"

Earlier this year the Health Ministry asked the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan (CPSS) to help spread the message to doctors.

“The point we are encouraging physicians to do is to turn their minds to the question of how is it that they are able to accommodate patients who have a variety of different needs?” said Bryan Salte, associate registrar with CPSS. “When somebody comes in and says, ‘I can’t get onto the examination table,’ have they addressed that in advance?

“Physicians at the very least have to be in a position to consider what they might be able to offer and how they might offer it.”

The CPSS council has reviewed the Provincial Disability Strategy, which was produced in June 2015. Anyone who operates a service, be it a doctor, lawyer or accountant, has an obligation to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to guarantee that you can deal with every situation that might ever come up,” Salte said.

Using the example of an examination table, a doctor might meet requirements by arranging with a regional health authority to have an examination table available that can be lowered or be capable of assisting people with morbid obesity, he said.

Dr. Sivertson said at minimum, physicians should make arrangements for patients to receive care in locations that can accommodate their needs.

“It should not fall on the shoulders of a patient to find these locations themselves,” she said. "While a single office may not be able to offer access for all manner of disabilities, as a system we can work together to ensure appropriate services are provided."

Salte also used the example of a doctor who practices in a pre-existing building. Renovating it to accommodate the needs of every patient might cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. It may not be reasonable to expect a doctor in that situation to be able to comply with discrimination provisions of human rights legislation, he said.

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