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Better Disability Screening Can Reduce Disparities in Clinical Care

People with disabilities have greater risk for experiencing health care disparities and differences in diagnoses, treatments, and outcomes, according to research reported in the Journal for Healthcare Quality.

Nearly 20% of the U.S. population lives with a disability, but little attention has been paid to improving the quality of health care provided to disabled patients. A major factor has been inadequate identification of specific disabilities.

“People with disabilities are a diverse population, and it is difficult to fully capture their experiences within the healthcare system,” says lead author Megan A. Morris, PhD, MPH, at the Center for Healthcare Studies at Northwestern University, Chicago. “After passage of the Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health and Human Services published six required disability status questions, but they fulfill agency needs and are not designed to gather disability data within a healthcare provider organization.”

According to Morris, the American Community Survey questions may be limited because they focus on impairments and limitations and do not include environmental and personal factors. For example, patients with communication or learning disabilities are important to identify because they may have difficulty in communicating with physicians or with overall health literacy.

The study recommended that health care providers develop questions that capture the range of possible disabilities and produce actionable data, which can be used for developing quality improvement initiatives. Also, the authors suggested that involving persons with disabilities and their families in developing questions would help incorporate a broader perspective in which environmental and social factors are considered. This will help identify potential disparities. The authors concluded that pinpointing disparities in care for disabled patients would enable provider organizations to establish effective quality improvement initiatives and eliminate disability disparities.

— Source: National Association for Healthcare Quality