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A survey on health professionals' understanding of federal protections regarding service dogs in clinical settings.

Context: Research has been scarce on health professionals' knowledge about guidelines regulating service dogs in a clinical setting. Gaining insight into health professionals' understanding of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations concerning service dogs is critical for navigating compliance and reducing risk. Misinformation about service dogs could influence decisions affecting policy and care, leading to poor treatment and suboptimal health outcomes for patients with service animals.

Objectives: To assess health professionals' knowledge about ADA regulations and beliefs about workplace protocols and training related to service dogs.

Methods: The study used snowball sampling to distribute surveys to health professionals from around the United States. Initial outreach occurred using mailing lists, investigators' personal networks, and social media. The survey contained 24 items. True and false questions were used to test ADA knowledge and then coded as correct or incorrect. Most closed-end questions were measured on a 5-point Likert scale using frequencies and descriptive statistics. A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted to test whether variables, such as encounters to service dogs, affected knowledge of ADA requirements.

Results: The survey was completed by 441 health professionals from around the country. Most (234; 53.1%) worked in a hospital and came from a range of professional backgrounds (nurses, 155 [35.2%]; physicians, 71 [16.1%]). While nearly three-quarters (318 [73.1%]) of participants said their workplace had a policy on service animals, 113 (34.9%) of those said they were unfamiliar with the policy and 236 (54.5%) said they had not received adequate training on the topic. Most participants did not know basic ADA policy requirements related to service dogs. Only those who were extremely familiar with policy (F=4.613; p=0.001) and those who strongly agreed that they knew the differences between service dogs and other classes of animals (F=5.906; p=0.000) scored higher on the knowledge test than those who disagreed.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that increased familiarity and training leads to higher knowledge about service dogs and ADA policy. Health professionals need additional education on ADA service dog regulations and hospital policy in order to minimize risk and ensure patients with service dogs receive optimal care.

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