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Funding available for physicians to purchase adjustable exam tables

Advocate for people with disabilities applauds SMA/Ministry of Health initiative

A new Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA)-Ministry of Health agreement provides an incentive to physicians to purchase adjustable examination tables to better accommodate patients with disabilities.

The program will grant a participating physician $5,000 to help defray the costs of an adjustable exam table. To apply for reimbursement after purchasing a table, click here.

The program is being applauded by a long-time advocate for the disabled community. 

Georgina Heselton, who is a polio survivor, says many people don’t understand how something as simple as an exam table that lowers and rises can make a huge difference in the health and well-being of people with disabilities.

“I think the grant program is good because for me personally, and for all the other people who are physically disabled to the extent that I am – we are entitled to health care on a basis equal to anyone else in society, and right now my health care is compromised because I do not get proper health care, especially being a woman,” said Heselton, who is with the Disabled Women’s Network of Saskatchewan.

“I used to be fairly mobile when I walked on crutches but I’m getting weaker and weaker,” she continued. “I used to be able to get onto an examination table no problem, but my post-polio has progressed and I’m in a wheelchair full time. I have no weight bearing ability so there’s absolutely no way I can get up onto those tables without help.”

Treated like 'a sack of flour'

A routine physician exam is an ordeal in frustration and humiliation, as she has to be carried, pushed and prodded like "a sack of flour,” she said through tears.

Dr. Allan Woo, president of the SMA, said physicians understand the need to be as accessible as possible to as many patients as possible.

“Our goal is improved access to all for medical services,” said Dr. Woo, a Saskatoon orthopedic surgeon. “As part of that belief physicians need to make as reasonable accommodation as possible for their patients with disabilities. I am pleased that the SMA has struck an agreement with the Ministry of Health that provides funds to physicians who buy and install adjustable exam tables.”

The SMA and the ministry have established a joint committee to oversee unspent funds that have accumulated from previous SMA/ministry agreements. The committee recommended:

  • That up to $500,000 be earmarked to provide access to adjustable examination tables for patients;
  • That participating physicians receive $5,000 to help cover expenses.

In January, the joint oversight committee reviewed a proposal to support a recommendation from the 2015 Provincial Disability Strategy. That recommendation says:

• “Review accessibility in health facilities. An initial step could be to encourage health care providers to make adjustable examination tables available within the health-care system.”

The Ministry of Health is aware of complaints to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission regarding access to accessible medical exam tables. The ministry asked the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan (CPSS) to help inform doctors of their obligation – under the provincial disability strategy – to make reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities.

A CPSS spokesperson has said physicians do not have to guarantee they will be able to deal with every patient who comes through their doors. But at the very least, physicians have to be in a position to consider what they might be able to offer a patient with a disability, and how they will offer it.

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

Tap funds for bed, SMA president urges

Dr. Woo urged physicians whose offices already have an exam table to swap it out for an adjustable one and to consider tapping the limited funds now, while available.

“This joint incentive by the Ministry and the SMA is a step in the right direction,” said Dr. Woo.  “If there is significant uptake, we hope there will be more monies available to meet demand. We want all physicians’ clinics to address the recommendation in the provincial disability strategy and provide better access to care.”

Heseltine says she talks about the need for adjustable exam tables whenever she gets a chance because most people don’t give it any thought. They go to their doctor and sit or lie on a table for an exam without any difficulties. She urges physicians to take advantage of the grant money to purchase a table, especially those in large group practices.

“All I hope is that one such adjustable examining table is located in every clinic, because lots of clinics have lots of doctors, but no adjustable exam table in the whole thing – not one. It’s a standard that they have the tables…. To me these doctors have a moral responsibility that they’re providing the best practices to all of their clients.”

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