Factors that influence doctors in the assessment of applicants for disability grant
Background: A disability grant is the financial assistance given by the government to South African citizens and bona fide refugees who have debility that results in inability to work. Doctors in state hospitals and clinics are tasked with the duty of assessing applicants for this grant. Ideally, the assessment is done by an institutional committee consisting of a doctor, physiotherapist, social worker, occupational therapist and specialised nurses. However, this is not always the case because of a shortage of personnel, particularly in rural areas. A lack of clear guidelines for the assessment process has led to confusion and differences in the outcomes. This poses major problems for the doctors, as well as the applicants, who often are dependent on the grant for survival. The aim of this study was to explore the factors that influence doctors in the assessment of applicants for a disability grant. Methods: A qualitative study using free attitude interviews was conducted amongst doctors involved in the assessment process in Limpopo province. Content analysis was used to identify themes from the interviews. Results: The assessment process was not entirely objective and was influenced by subjective factors. These included the mood of the doctors, emotions such as anger and sympathy, and feelings of desperation. Perceptions by the doctors regarding abuse of the system, abuse of the grant, the inappropriateness of the task, lack of clear guidelines and the usefulness of the committees were important in decision making. The doctors' personal life experiences were a major determinant of the outcome of the application. Conclusion: The assessment of applicants for a disability grant is a subjective and emotional task. There is need for policy makers to appreciate the difficulties inherent in the current medicalised process. Demedicalisation of certain aspects of disability assessment and other social needs that doctors do not view as a purely clinical functions is necessary. In addition, there is a need for clear, uniform policy on and guidelines for the management of the grant, the role of the doctor has to be defined, healthcare practitioners must be trained in disability assessment, institutional committees should be established and intersectoral initiatives should be encouraged to address issues of poverty and dependence.
South African Family Practice Vol. 50 (2) 2008: pp. 65-65c