Making the Case: Health Care Providers

Opening Eyes - Mexican Swimmer Christian Gonzalez Gets an Eye Exam During a Healthy Athletes Event in Southern California, 2014


People with intellectual disabilities (ID) are at increased risk for poor health outcomes and health disparities. The lack of health care provider training on disability has been highlighted in recent literature as a key, modifiable determinant of the health disparities experienced by people with ID.

Despite national calls for didactic and clinical interventions aimed at improving health care provider competency in treating people with ID, most health care providers receive little training during medical school in the health care of patients with ID. Additionally, mainstream clinical guidelines do not address the unique concerns of patients with ID. As a result, patients with ID are not included in mainstream health care delivery organizations and practices.


Limited access to health promotion and wellness opportunities and inadequate and delayed health care for persons with ID contribute to poorer overall health, the development of secondary conditions that could be prevented such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, and higher rates of hospitalization, emergency department visits and health care costs. The failure to recognize and act on the health disparities experienced by persons with ID by many health care providers exacerbates disparities experienced at the individual and the community level.

Actions on the level of individual providers contribute to costs on a health care system level. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies calculated that during 2003-2006, we would have saved $229 billion in direct healthcare expenditures if the United States had eliminated health disparities. Practices that are particularly important when serving patients with ID can help improve the quality of health care provided to all patients. For example, communication practices such as speaking directly to the patient, using person-first language, and avoiding jargon are beneficial not only when serving patients with ID, but also when serving all patients.


Health care providers can promote inclusive health, the inclusion of people with ID in mainstream health services, training programs, and research, through improving their competency in caring for patients with ID through education and advocacy. Learn how by reading the entire case statement.