Frontline Initiative: DSPs Responding to Crisis

Station MD:
Improving Access to Medical Care through Telehealth for People with Disabilities


Maulik Trivedi MD, FACEP, is Chief Strategy Officer at StationMD and an emergency room doctor in New York City, New York.

Relief for DSPs During the COVID-19 Crisis

As many DSPs can attest, when you’re supporting someone living with an intellectual and/or developmental disability (IDD), and suddenly that person needs to see a doctor for a medical issue like a fever, vomiting, a fall or even a medication refill, venturing out to the doctor’s office or hospital can be challenging. It can even be traumatizing for the person you support or you.

smiling man with dark skin, gray hair, a short beard, and wearing a suit jacket and shirt

Dr. Maulik Trivedi

Given the pandemic, with masking requirements and mandatory quarantine periods, going to the doctor can seem impossible. And for many people with disabilities it actually is impossible. If you’re supporting someone in the heart of the Bronx, getting a wheelchair through city streets and in and out of the doctor’s office may be troublesome. On the flip side, if you’re supporting someone in rural Nebraska, your nearest available doctor could be 90 miles away. Because of circumstances like these, some people just don’t get the medical care they need altogether because too many barriers stand in the way of seeing a doctor.

As an emergency physician who specializes in providing medical care to people with IDD, and who practices both in the emergency room and via telemedicine, here’s my best advice to DSPs: Use telemedicine when possible.

In March, an alarming study came out in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study concludes that having an intellectual disability is the strongest risk factor, other than age, for COVID-19 mortality. This means that those who are most at risk of dying from COVID-19 are elderly people. Next to that, it’s people who have an intellectual disability.

People with IDD can minimize their risks of exposure to COVID-19 by using telemedicine. With telemedicine, you just need a smartphone, tablet, or computer, and the person you support can be face-to-face with a doctor in minutes from the comfort and safety of home. By getting medical services delivered at home through telemedicine when possible, you can protect the person you support as well as colleagues, yourself, and others from getting exposed to COVID-19 or other infections circulating at a hospital or clinic.

People with IDD can minimize their risks of exposure to COVID-19 by using telemedicine. You just need a smartphone, tablet, or computer and the person you support can be face-to-face with a doctor in minutes from the comfort and safety of home.

It is a win for everyone involved

There’s more good news. Telemedicine could become the new typical way for DSPs to help the people they support see their health care provider. The American Rescue Plan signed by President Biden in March is making millions of dollars available to spend on Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBSs). This means more funds to support the critical work that you do every day for people with disabilities. This money has the potential to make your job and the lives of the people you support better. Using and speaking up for telemedicine, can highlight what kinds of resources you need to do your job well.

It could mean you rarely have to walk out the door to get the person you support in front of a doctor when they need it. If you’re in a bind and need a doctor to refill their prescription, you can take care of that with a quick call. If you have an urgent, non-life-threatening medical question, you don’t have load up the car to get them to the doctor’s office, only to be told they have a stomach virus and need to rest and drink fluids. With telemedicine, the doctor can come to you virtually.

At StationMD, we are here to support you. Your work is critical to ensuring that people with disabilities have better health and fuller, more independent lives. As a doctor who’s seen too many people with IDD suffer from COVID-19, I can say with full confidence that DSPs who use telemedicine for the people they support aren’t just delivering patient-centric care. You are literally saving lives during this health crisis.