Can disability accommodation needs stored in electronic health records help providers prepare for patient visits? A qualitative study

Nancy R. Mudrick, Mary Lou Breslin, Kyrian A. Nielsen, Lee Ann C. Swager

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Embedding patient accommodation need in the electronic health record (EHR) has been proposed as one means to improve health care delivery to patients with disabilities. Accommodation need is not a standard field in commercial EHR software. However, some medical practices ask about accommodation need and store it in the EHR. Little is known about how the information is used, or barriers to its use. This exploratory-descriptive study examines whether and how information about patients’ disability-related accommodation needs stored in patient records is used in a primary health care center to plan for care. Methods: Four focus groups (n = 35) were conducted with staff of a Federally Qualified Health Center that asks four accommodation questions at intake for the EHR. Respondents were asked how they learned about patient accommodation need, whether and how they used the information in the EHR, barriers to its use, and recommendations for where accommodation information should reside. A brief semi-structured interview was conducted with patients who had indicated an accommodation need (n = 12) to learn their experience at their most recent appointment. The qualitative data were coded using structural coding and themes extracted. Results: Five themes were identified from the focus groups: (1) staff often do not know accommodation needs before the patient’s arrival; (2) electronic patient information systems offer helpful information, but their structure creates challenges and information gaps; (3) accommodations for a patient’s disability occur, but are developed at the time of visit; (4) provider knowledge of a regular patient is often the basis for accommodation preparation; and (5) staff recognize benefits to advance knowledge of accommodation needs and are supportive of methods to enable it. Most patients did not recall indicating accommodation need on the intake form. However, they expected to be accommodated based upon the medical practice’s knowledge of them. Conclusions: Patient accommodation information in the EHR can be useful for visit planning. However, the structure must enable transfer of information between scheduling and direct care and be updatable as needs change. Flexibility to record a variety of needs, visibility to differentiate accommodation need from other alerts, and staff education about needs were recommended.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number958
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020


  • Electronic health record
  • Patient accommodation need
  • Primary care patients with disability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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