Wheelchairs enable Veterans to participate in home, employment, and social activities that might otherwise be inaccessible to them, thereby improving their quality of life (QOL). Despite VA's efforts to remove financial and other barriers to the provision of high quality wheelchairs to all Veterans, preliminary evidence suggests that disparities exist in the quality of wheelchairs prescribed to vulnerable (e.g., minority race/ethnicity, lower socioeconomic status) Veterans with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) or amputated limbs (AL). This finding is concerning because patients who receive lower quality wheelchairs may be at risk for adverse physical, psychological, economic, and QOL outcomes. Mounting research demonstrates that patient psychosocial characteristics (e.g., medical mistrust, perceived discrimination, locus of control) and provider factors (e.g., demographics and training) are associated with disparities in healthcare processes and outcomes. However, for Veterans with SCI or AL, no studies to date have examined (a) what patient and provider factors are associated with the prescription of high quality wheelchairs, and (b) how these factors are associated with wheelchair quality and patient outcomes. The proposed cross-sectional, multi-site study of Veterans with SCI or AL who use a wheelchair as their primary source of mobility aims to determine whether: (1) patient demographic (e.g., race, SES) and psychosocial characteristics (e.g., medical mistrust, experience of discrimination) and provider factors (e.g., years of practice, certification, demographics) are associated with wheelchair quality;(2) wheelchair quality is associated with key patient outcomes, including satisfaction with medical care, QOL, amount of wheelchair activity, and participation in social and work-related activities;(3) patient and provider factors are independently associated with key patient outcomes including satisfaction with medical care, QOL, amount of wheelchair activity, and participation;and (4) the association of patient and provider factors with patient outcomes is explained by differences in wheelchair quality. Veterans with SCI or AL, who were prescribed their wheelchairs through the VA, will be recruited from the Philadelphia, PA, Cleveland, OH, Richmond, VA, and Bronx, NY VA Medical Centers to participate in an interview to assess their demographic characteristics, health information, psychosocial characteristics (including, experience of discrimination, perceived racism, medical mistrust, self-image, anxiety/depression, health beliefs, health literacy, and communication) and health-related outcomes (including wheelchair skills, satisfaction, QOL, participation). We will also assess amount of wheelchair activity using data logging devices, and determine wheelchair quality by its make and model. Data will also be collected from all health care providers involved in wheelchair provision for study participants. Provider factors will include demographics (e.g., race/ethnicity, age, gender), and specialty (i.e., MD/OT/PT). For Occupational and Physical Therapists, we will determine if they are certified by the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America. Years of practice since completion of medical training, number of chairs prescribed over the span of their career, what role each provider plays in the wheelchair provision process, as well as the number of continuing medical education (CME) credits and/or educational credit units (ECU) they have obtained in the past 3 years related specifically to wheelchairs, will also be assessed. Understanding the associations among the proposed patient characteristics and provider factors is an essential step toward developing tailored interventions, aimed at patients and providers, to improve the quality and equity of wheelchair service delivery for Veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides wheelchairs to about 42,000 Veterans with SCI and more than 40,000 Veterans with amputated limbs (AL). Despite VA's efforts to remove financial and other barriers to the provision of wheelchairs to all Veterans who need them, preliminary evidence suggests that disparities exist in the quality of wheelchairs prescribed to racial minorities and low income Veterans with SCI or AL. The proposed project will provide important information to the VA about the quality and equity of wheelchairs provided to Veterans with SCI or AL, and it will identify the patient and provider factors associated with wheelchair provision. Because Veterans with SCI and AL are considered special disability populations, identifying and understanding these factors is a critical first step to developing interventions to increase the quality and equity of wheelchairs provided to all disabled Veterans.