Healthcare utilization and associated barriers experienced by wheelchair users: A pilot study

Michael D. Stillman, M.D, Gina Bertocci, Ph.D., P.E, Craig Smalley, M.Eng., Steve Williams, M.D, Karen L. Frost, Ph.D., M.B.A.

Disability and Health JournalVol. 10Issue 4p502–508



More than twenty-five years after passage of the ADA, little remains known about the experiences of wheelchair users when attempting to access health care and how accessibility may influence health care utilization.


To describe health care utilization among wheelchair users and characterize barriers encountered when attempting to obtain access to health care.


An internet-based survey of wheelchair users was conducted. Measures included demographics, condition, socioeconomic status, health care utilization and receipt of preventive services within the past year, physical barriers encountered at outpatient facilities, and satisfaction with care.


Four hundred thirty-two wheelchair users responded to the survey. Nearly all respondents (97.2%) had a primary care appointment within the past year and most reported 3–5 visits to both primary and specialty care providers. Most encountered physical barriers when accessing care (73.8% primary, 68.5% specialty). Participants received most preventive interventions at rates similar to national averages with the exception of Pap tests. Most participants remained clothed for their primary care evaluation (76.1%), and were examined seated in their wheelchair (69.7%). More than half of participants (54.1%) felt they received incomplete care, and 57% believed their physician had no more than a moderate understanding of their disability-specific medical concerns.


Wheelchair users face persistent barriers to care, may receive less than thorough physical evaluations, receive fewer screenings for cervical cancer, and largely believe they receive incomplete care.