Use of Accessible Examination Tables in the Primary Care Setting: A Survey of Physical Evaluations and Patient Attitudes

J Gen Intern Med. 2017 Dec;32(12):1342-1348. doi: 10.1007/s11606-017-4155-2. Epub 2017 Sep 18.


Background: Accessible diagnostic equipment, including height-adjustable examination tables, is necessary to accommodate patients with disabilities. Studies demonstrate that only a minority of clinics provide accessible equipment. For clinics with this equipment, no studies have examined the use of such equipment in routine clinical care.

Objective: In primary care clinics with and without height-adjustable examination tables, we compared the frequency and variation in physical evaluations on examination tables and patients' perceptions of quality care.

Design: Survey administered to patients at two primary care clinics in Rochester, MN, in 2015. One clinic had height-adjustable examination tables in every exam room; the other clinic had none.

Patients: A total of 399 English-speaking adult primary care patients (61% participation).

Main measures: Participants were asked whether they were physically evaluated on a table during their clinical encounter. In addition, they completed two subscales of the Patient Perception of Quality of Care survey: Perceptions of Provider's Bedside Manner and Perceptions of Provider's Work.

Key results: Overall, there were no differences between clinics in the likelihood of patients being examined on an exam table or in their perceptions of quality of care. Across both clinics, patients who reported a disability were 27% less likely to be examined on a table, were less likely to rate their provider's bedside manner favorably (74% vs. 59%) and to have positive perceptions of their provider's work (46% vs. 32%) than patients without disabilities.

Conclusions: The presence of accessible medical equipment was not associated with care delivered to patients. While this might not be meaningful for most patients, it could be problematic for patients with disabilities, who are less likely to be examined. Therefore, accessible equipment alone may not be sufficient to reduce disparities in the care experience. Provider- and organization-level factors must thus be considered in efforts to provide equitable care to patients with disabilities.

Keywords: access to care; disability; disparity; primary care.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Disabled Persons / psychology
  • Equipment Design
  • Examination Tables / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Minnesota
  • Physical Examination / instrumentation
  • Physical Examination / psychology
  • Physical Examination / standards
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Primary Health Care / standards
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Young Adult