The Need for Better Recording of Intellectual Disability in General Hospitals

In the realm of healthcare, accurate recording and recognition of conditions are of paramount importance. This is particularly true for conditions like intellectual disability that require tailored care, adjustments and continuous monitoring to ensure equitable access and high-quality care. A study led by Rory Sheehan and published in PLOS Medicine explores the level and accuracy of recording intellectual disability in general hospitals in England from 2006 to 2019.

The Aim and Methodology of the Study

The aim of this study was to ascertain the rate at which intellectual disability was recorded in hospital settings for those diagnosed with the condition. Two datasets of routinely collected clinical data in England were used for this retrospective cohort study. Adults with a diagnosed intellectual disability were identified from a large secondary mental healthcare database, and their general hospital records were used to investigate the recording of their intellectual disability.

The Results: A Concerning Trend

Data was collected from 2,477 adults with intellectual disability who had at least one admission to an English general hospital during the study period. The study found that patients’ intellectual disability was accurately recorded during only 2.9% of their admissions. When a nonspecific code of learning difficulty was included, the recording rate increased to 27.7% of all admissions.

Factors such as having a mild intellectual disability and being married were associated with an increased likelihood of the intellectual disability not being recorded in the hospital records.

The Implications: Improving Clinical Coding and Patient Care

The study results underscore the significant gaps in the recognition and recording of intellectual disability in the general hospital setting. Given the importance of accurate clinical coding for patient care, resource allocation, and healthcare planning, the findings of this study are indeed concerning.

Enhanced staff awareness training, screening at admission, and efficient data sharing between health and social care services may play a pivotal role in addressing this issue. These steps can ensure that people with intellectual disabilities receive the tailored and equitable care they need.

The Call to Action: Change is Needed

This study by Sheehan et al. (2023) shines a light on an area of healthcare that requires immediate attention. Accurate clinical coding is not just a matter of administrative efficiency, but it directly impacts the quality of care that patients receive. There is a need for increased awareness, training and systemic changes to ensure the equitable and high-quality care that individuals with intellectual disability deserve.


Sheehan, R., Mansour, H., Broadbent, M., Hassiotis, A., Mueller, C., Stewart, R., Strydom, A., & Sommerlad, A. (2023). Recording of intellectual disability in general hospitals in England 2006–2019: Cohort study using linked datasets. PLOS Medicine.

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