New Push Underway To Train Doctors, Dentists On Developmental Disabilities

First-year medical students learn to use an automated external defibrillator. Officials at the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association say they will take steps to enhance disability training for medical and dental students. (Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times/TNS)

Groups representing the nation’s doctors and dentists are committing to better prepare students in their fields to treat those with intellectual and developmental disabilities in a move that could lead to better improvements in care for people in this population.

The presidents of the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association said that they would work to expand disability training for medical and dental students during an appearance earlier this summer at the American Academy of Developmental Medicine & Dentistry’s One Voice Conference in Orlando, Fla.

People with disabilities have long faced disparities in health care and the situation is often exaggerated by the fact that many doctors and dentists receive little to no training in how to meet the needs of such patients. Research shows that doctors overwhelmingly harbor negative views of those with disabilities and more than a third of physicians don’t know what their obligations are under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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Disability advocates have pressed in recent years for a requirement that all medical schools include specific training on treating people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but that effort has so far been unsuccessful.

The pledge from leaders of the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association was short on specifics, but officials with the American Academy of Developmental Medicine & Dentistry — which represents health professionals focused on caring for those with developmental disabilities — say the groups are meeting to push things forward. They indicated that they expect to establish a timetable for training to be in place and said they believe it needs to be mandatory for future doctors and dentists.

“The AMA and ADA presidents outlined plans to provide clinical competency training to both medical and dental students, and assured people with intellectual disabilities would be appointed to the committees that develop those plans,” the American Academy of Developmental Medicine & Dentistry said in a statement about the meeting.

Rick Rader, senior vice president for external affairs at the American Academy of Developmental Medicine & Dentistry, said the development is “perhaps the biggest deal in the arena of health care for individuals with disabilities.”

“Currently there is little or no formal training, exposure or interaction with patients with complex disabilities in both medical and dental school. Both the AMA and ADA are now on record to initiate and promote formal didactic and clinical training in the treatment of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as physical disabilities,” Rader said. “It could have high impact by working towards accessibility for competent and compassionate care for the special needs community across the life span.”

In a statement, the American Dental Association said that the effort “will help improve patient care to address the needs of this community and integrate all health care disciplines with one voice. Future collaboration efforts are still under way and additional information will be forthcoming.”

The American Medical Association did not respond to multiple requests for comments about the commitment.

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