Physicians' Attitudes about Individuals with Intellectual Disability and Health Care Practices Toward Them: A Systematic Review

Psychiatr Danub. 2021 Dec;33(Suppl 11):79-90.


Background: Attitudes of physicians toward intellectual disability (ID) impact access and quality of the health care services provided to individuals with ID. Attitudes are conceptualized as composed of cognitive, affective, and behavioral dimensions. However, research on attitudes toward ID frequently neglects to define the underlying theoretical framework. This work aimed to review research over the past 20 years on physicians' attitudes toward and health care practices for individuals with ID. Findings are reported on the cognitive, affective, and behavioral dimensions of attitudes.

Methods: A systematic review was conducted following the PRISMA guidelines. Articles published in English between 2000 and October 2021 were searched in Scopus and Web of Science. Descriptive statistics and frequencies were used to describe the attitudes of physicians.

Results: A total of 14 studies were included in the review. Considering the cognitive dimension of attitudes, physicians had a medium to good but almost always incomplete knowledge of ID and its associated conditions, rights and capabilities of individuals with ID, and health care practices for this population. Concerning the affective dimension, approximately half of physicians expressed feelings of pity, unsatisfaction, frustration, discomfort, and lack of confidence. With respect to the behavioral dimension of attitudes, approximately half of physicians preferred to avoid patients with ID.

Conclusions: Physicians' attitudes are rather complex. From this work emerges a clear need to change these generally unfavorable attitudes, especially in the aspects regarding emotions and behaviors, to provide better health care to individuals with ID. Educational and training programs on ID for physicians should be developed to improve attitudes toward ID and consequently foster the wellbeing of this population.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability* / therapy
  • Physicians*