Medical Students Need to Learn More About Needs of IDD Patients

Doctor's Day

Bet you didn’t know that March 30 is World Doctor’s Day! Enabling Devices salutes doctors as well as nurses and other allied health professionals for all they do for us on a regular basis. Where would we be without them, especially during the pandemic?

Yet, it’s also worth considering how doctors could do a better job of caring for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD).

If you or your adult child lives with an (IDD), finding doctors who truly understand your concerns can sometimes be challenging. That’s because most medical students receive next to no training in treating individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

According to the American Academy of Developmental Medicine (AADM), “those who pursue specialties in developmental medicine, [treating individuals with IDD] typically go into pediatrics. That’s not so surprising since, “for most of human history, the average life expectancy for people with IDD was less than 20 years,” says AADM. “Today, the life expectancy of a person with IDD is more than 60 years. The medical field, however, has not kept pace with this significant demographic shift.”

Clearly, this presents a major problem for IDD individuals when they grow into adults.

“The result of this [shortcoming in the medical field] has been high levels of unmet health needs, misdiagnosis, medical mismanagement, polypharmacy and avoidable medical expense,” finds AADM.

Since its inception in 2002, AADM has dedicated itself to improving the quality of healthcare for people with IDD. As such, the organization has spent years advocating for changes in medical school curriculums so that every future doctor has the skills they need to provide quality care to patients with IDD.

In 2009, AAMD founded The National Curriculum Initiative in Developmental Medicine (NCIDM), a program that aims to “define and integrate the concepts of developmental medicine into the medical school curriculum of every medical school in the United States.”

The initiative, led by Dr. Matt Holder, has the support of organizations and businesses including Special Olympics, Walmart Foundation, the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, the North Carolina Mountain Area Health Education Center, the WITH Foundation and the Society for Teachers of Family Medicine. So far, these funding partners have raised almost $2,000,000. According to NCIDM, an additional $1,000,000 is needed to ensure that all medical schools follow its developmental medicine curriculum. AAMD data shows the investment would be well worth it. It is estimated that Medicaid stands to save between $2 billion and $8 billion dollars a year, if the curriculum is adopted.

Yet, the initiative has been met with resistance from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, (LCME), a group cosponsored by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Medical Association. To date, only 10 % of medical schools have adopted the NCIDM curriculum. These include prestigious institutions such as Harvard Medical School, Baylor College of Medicine, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Albert Einstein School of Medicine, and Georgetown University.

Dr. Matt Holder, the doctor who heads up NCIDM, hopes that will soon change. “What we would hope to see is a long-term improvement in not only the ability of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to access care, but an improvement in the quality of care,” he told Disability Scoop in 2019.

“We know, for example, that by changing attitudes and at least having a willingness to see this population and not being intimidated, you won’t turn people away, or you won’t make it uncomfortable for them in your office so they go away.”

Those steps, which are way overdue, would certainly be positive steps forward!

Stay tuned for updates about this important initiative.