Disabilities website helps doctors communicate with, treat patients

Site also meant as resource for patients, caregivers

Written by: Anita Wadhwani
Published in: The Tennessean
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Many doctors have little or no experience treating patients who have intellectual disabilities — people who may not be able to articulate how they feel or to fully understand a doctor’s questions.

A new website — www.iddtoolkit.org — aims to provide primary-care physicians with tools for communicating with and treating patients with intellectual disabilities, defined as having an IQ of 70 or below.

The website was created by the state Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, and the Boling Center for Developmental Disabilities at the University of Tennessee.

The website gives doctors guidance in how to interact with patients and assess their physical health and behavioral issues. The siteprovides checklists for problems associated with specific diagnoses such as Down syndrome.

It also is intended to be a resource for people with intellectual disabilities and their caregivers, who can share the guidelines with physicians or follow the tips for communicating with medical professionals, said Dr. Thomas Cheetham, director of the Office of Health Services for DIDD.

Cheetham, who developed similar guidelines for physicians in Canada, stressed that doctors have often had little or no training in treating patients with special needs.

“In many countries, it is possible to graduate from medical school without a lot of experience with people with intellectual disabilities,” he said.

The website, launched publicly last week, was developed with a $50,000 grant from the Special Hope Foundation. A test version of the site had already been widely disseminated nationally. The response, said Elise McMillan, co-director for the Vanderbilt Kennedy University Center, has been positive, with physicians expressing interest in additional training. Cheetham said he hopes to pursue further grants to provide hands-on training to physicians.

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