The Expansion of Telehealth to People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Updated: Apr 3

A Critical Improvement for Customized Patient Care Towards Those with Disabilities

According to Kat Jercich, writing an article for Healthcare IT News, although disproportionately likely to end up in the emergency room, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are often mistreated or pushed aside, not being privy to the patient experience that so many of us take for granted when we land in the hospital. Most hospitals operate under stressful situations and quick turnarounds whenever possible, making the few extra steps needed to accommodate individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities simply too costly. Add on to that people with IDDs are often sensitive to changing environments, have trouble communicating wants or needs, and face stigma and discrimination, and you have a perfect storm in which the needs of a portion of society aren’t being met.

So, what can be done?

Surely physician training and increasing accommodations can help the problem, but in the imperfect world we live in, hospital workers have neither the time nor money to pour themselves into these extra programs. Enter telehealth.

Telehealth has been a quickly evolving field for increasing medical care access to a country’s most vulnerable populations, allowing doctors and dentists to come to the communities themselves to give treatment or have virtual appointments that allow patients more flexibility in their care. In no community may the results of telehealth be more positive than the IDD population, which is just being introduced to telehealth due to the onset of COVID-19 that severely constricted in-person care options. Without having to leave their place of residence, an individual with IDD can virtually meet with a physician, diminishing effects of sensory overload and miscommunications that may come from being forced into a new and isolating environment. They also no longer have to drive to a hospital or clinic, find parking, or use public transportation.

The switch to telehealth as a primary means of treating individuals with IDD in non-emergent situations is one that ensures adequate access to medical care is given to all members of society. It benefits both the individual and the hospitals that can focus on bettering telehealth technology to further increase patient care. While the field is still rapidly evolving, it shows great promise is adapting to the needs of those who need medical care the most, but are often the most stigmatized or unable to receive the level of care necessary at a typical hospital or clinic.

Telehealth will be an important tool in individualized and holistic care for people with IDD in the years to come and may expand to significantly assisting those with physical disabilities as greater telehealth technologies become available.

Written by Ryan Trombly

Ryan Trombly was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy when she was eighteen months old. The disability causes right-side hemiparesis that affects the entire right side of her body, weakening her muscles and limiting her mobility in everyday activities. Despite this, Ryan had strived to live a normal, independent life without any barriers and hopes to use her voice to advocate for the disabled community

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