A toolkit for improving health
April 1, 2016
Queen's University associate professor Ian Casson (Family Medicine) has co-authored a report in conjunction with researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) on implementing Health Checks in family health teams, aimed at improving the health of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The research program, Health Care Access Research and Developmental Disabilities (H-CARDD), evaluated how Health Checks were implemented in two Family Health Teams in Ontario.
“Health Checks are like annual physicals, but they take into account the special needs of adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Dr. Casson who is also a family physician with Queen’s Family Health Team. “Health Checks help improve access to health care and they help family doctors recognize this group of patients in their practices and serve them more effectively.”
Adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities have more health issues than other adults and are less likely to receive preventative care. They have more emergency department visits and avoidable hospitalizations. Physicians and patients often have communication issues that can complicate diagnosis and treatment. Patients may have atypical symptoms for illnesses: a gastrointestinal problem, for example, may present with changes in behavior, not seen in other patients.
An important issue identified in the research was the difficulty, in family practices, of recognizing patients with mild or borderline intellectual disabilities, especially those who did not have family or other caregivers acting as advocates.
Based on the experience gained in the research program, H-CARDD also developed a toolkit to help family practices and other primary health care organizations manage the practical details of implementing Health Checks; this was part of the knowledge translation and dissemination of the research. The toolkit includes a four-step process to implement Health Checks, along with resources to help clinicians screen for intellectual and developmental disabilities, clinical tools to assist with the exam itself, resources for patients and families, and examples of how the tools can be embedded into Electronic Medical Records for easier access.
“I hope people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and caregivers become aware of the importance of having regular Health Checks and that primary care providers become more aware of their patients with special needs and how best to meet them,” says Dr. Casson.