Objective: To understand the frequency of social determinants of health (SDOH) diagnosis codes (Z-codes) within the electronic health record (EHR) for patients with prediabetes and diabetes and examine factors influencing the adoption of SDOH documentation in clinical care. Data Sources: EHR data and qualitative interviews with health care providers and stakeholders. Study Design: An explanatory sequential mixed methods design first examined the use of Z-codes within the EHR and qualitatively examined barriers to documenting SDOH. Data were integrated and interpreted using a joint display. This research was informed by the Framework for Dissemination and Utilization of Research for Health Care Policy and Practice. Data Collection/Extraction Methods: We queried EHR data for patients with a hemoglobin A1c > 5.7 between October 1, 2015 and September 1, 2020 (n = 118,215) to examine the use of Z-codes and demographics and outcomes for patients with and without social needs. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 23 participants (n = 15 health care providers; n = 7 billing and compliance stakeholders). The interview questions sought to understand how factors at the innovation-, individual-, organizational-, and environmental-level influence SDOH documentation. We used thematic analysis to analyze interview data. Principal Findings: Patients with social needs were disproportionately older, female, Black, uninsured, living in low-income and high unemployment neighborhoods, and had a higher number of hospitalizations, obesity, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes than those without a Z-code. Z-codes were not frequently used in the EHR (<1% of patients), and there was an overall lack of congruence between quantitative and qualitative results related to the prevalence of social needs. Providers faced barriers at multiple levels (e.g., individual-level: discomfort discussing social needs; organizational-level: limited time, competing priorities) for documenting SDOH and identified strategies to improve documentation. Conclusions: Providers recognized the impact of SDOH on patient health and had positive perceptions of screening for and documenting social needs. Implementation strategies are needed to improve systematic documentation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-77
Number of pages11
JournalHealth services research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • delivery of health care
  • diabetes
  • implementation science
  • social determinants of health
  • social needs


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