October 3, 2005

Special Olympics, family docs announce partnership

By Charnicia E. Huggins

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Special Olympics will team up
with the American Academy of Family Physicians to provide
intellectually impaired people with easier access to
physicians, dentists and other health care providers who are
willing and trained to treat them.

Announced last week during the academy's annual scientific
convention, the initiative includes the creation of a Healthy
Athletes Provider Directory and a curriculum to train
interested health care providers.

Such a partnership is "very necessary, because people with
intellectual disabilities have such a hard time accessing good
quality primary care in the community," Dr. Matthew Holder, a
Kentucky-based practicing physician and global medical advisor
for Special Olympics, told Reuters Health.

Findings from two recent studies conducted by Special
Olympics showed that vision, hearing, dental and other health
problems are common among people with Down syndrome and other
intellectual disabilities. Yet, most doctors and dentists are
not trained to deliver services to this population.

Special Olympics and the AAFP are targeting that small pool

of physicians who are trained to provide such care, as well

those who are untrained but willing to provide such care.

"First it's necessary that they're willing, Holder said,
"that's half the battle right there."

Several physicians had already listed themselves in the
directory before the convention ended, according to Dr. Mary E.

Frank, board chair of the AAFP and practicing family
physician, based in Rohnert Park, California. She believes many
physicians were previously interested in providing care to
people with mental limitations but did not know how to get
involved, she told Reuters Health.

Special Olympics and the AAFP have also partnered with the
American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry to
create a curriculum for medical students and residents
nationwide that will teach them how to treat people with
intellectual disabilities, Holder said.

Trained health care professionals will be able to more
easily identify and diagnose pain, for example, in a patient
with an intellectual impairment who cannot communicate that
pain and knows no other way to express it but by "acting out,"
Holder explained. In most cases, such patients, "are improperly

referred to psychiatrists because of behavioral changes,"
he said.

The curriculum will not only educate health care providers
on the nuances of caring for patients with cognitive
disabilities, but it is also intended to help both providers
and patients feel comfortable, Frank said.

According to Frank, the partnership with Special Olympics
was a "natural match," because of family physicians' role in
providing continuity of care, the AAFP's belief that "everyone
deserves to have a personal medical home," and the
organization's promotion of physical fitness among all

Frank and Holder both expect more organizations to partner
with Special Olympics on these projects in the near future. "We

hope we'll set the model for others to follow," Frank said,
citing the importance for all people with intellectual
disabilities to get quality health care, in spite of their

After the directory is completed (expected by 2006), it
will be available for searching by the general public on an
Internet database hosted by Special Olympics.

Physicians in the United States, Mexico, Canada and the
Caribbean who wish to list themselves in the directory can
register at www.specialolympics.org/providerdirectory.