Digital accessibility in healthcare has become a critical issue as more healthcare services are being provided through digital means. With the increasing reliance on digital technologies, it is important to ensure that all patients, including those with disabilities, have equal access to healthcare information and services.

In order to achieve this, healthcare providers need to comply with digital accessibility standards and guidelines. In this article, we will discuss five tips for compliance with digital accessibility in healthcare, highlighting the importance of accessibility and providing practical guidance for healthcare providers to ensure they are meeting the needs of all patients.

Impact of health

The impact of health on individuals is universal, irrespective of their age, economic status, or ability level. This makes it the greatest equalizer for humankind. However, the way health affects each person is unique and case-specific.

Despite advancements in digital healthcare, a significant portion of the patient population remains underserved. To illustrate, individuals with disabilities need equitable access to medical care and healthcare networks, which is currently lacking.

Providing accessible healthcare to everyone necessitates ensuring that online platforms and portals are digitally accessible. The healthcare sector needs to catch up and achieve this objective. It is worth noting that digital healthcare solutions must adhere to ADA and WCAG guidelines. Otherwise non-compliance can result in substantial penalties.

The Inaccessibility of Online Health Management

The importance of digital accessibility in healthcare is closely tied to the significant number of individuals with disabilities. Over 61 million people in the U.S. and more than 1 billion people worldwide have disabilities. This includes 46% of people aged 60 and above, represents the world’s largest minority.

Furthermore, the number of Americans aged 65 and above will double, 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060. Therefore, the urgency of digital accessibility in healthcare cannot be overstated.

The importance of digital accessibility in healthcare is shown in this infographic. Disability and healthcare access infographic shows the healthcare access barriers for working age adults: 1 in 4 adults with disabilities between 18 to 44 years do not have a usual healthcare provider. 1 in 5 adults with disabilities between 18 to 44 years have an unmet healthcare need because of cost in the past year. 1 in 4 adults with disabilities between 45 to 64 years did not have a routine checkup in the past year. Making a difference because public health is for all of us. Image source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Although there are several laws for accessibility, online healthcare management remains highly challenging. It is frustrating to note that this need not be the case compared to other sectors. Education and even banking have successfully made essential online tasks digitally accessible.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, several well-documented failures to serve people with disabilities have come to light. These include:

Drive-Through Services

The drive-through model for COVID-19 testing and vaccination posed challenges for individuals with disabilities. This population do not have access to a vehicle or cannot operate one.

Home COVID Testing

The home COVID-19 testing kits lacked accessibility features such as braille, large print, or electronic instructions. This exposed inadequate end-to-end product design and made it difficult for those living alone to use the tests independently.

Inadequate Online Graphics

Even today, many online COVID-19 hotspots have graphics that are inaccessible to people with print disabilities. This presents a significant barrier for those who rely on screen readers or other assistive technologies to access online information.

Watch our AccessibilityInsight Interview Series on the ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on Accessibility’ here.

The Potential for Improved Accessibility in Healthcare Shopping and Management

Shopping for a healthcare plan is not fundamentally different from shopping for other comparable products online. Many industries, including government and education, have already resolved numerous accessibility issues. Although selecting from various options can be time-consuming, the U.S. Medicare program demonstrates relatively good online accessibility.

The management of healthcare coverage should also be straightforward. It is feasible to make online forms accessible on handheld devices, laptops, and home computers. With today’s technology, it is also possible to offer a personal dashboard that provides accessible communications.

Although only a handful of pharmacies have implemented accessible online prescription instructions, it is now achievable. Additionally, receiving and paying bills online should no longer be a challenge, although it often still is. To sum up, the technology required to improve online accessibility in healthcare is readily available. Achieving this goal depends on a prioritized, committed, and well-executed effort.

The Business Case for Improved Digital Accessibility in Post-COVID Healthcare

Most of the time, the healthcare industry falls short in providing essential web accessibility. However, this creates a significant opportunity to gain the loyalty of a critical demographic that cannot be overlooked. Businesses that go the extra mile to make their online services and products accessible will stand out from the competition.

The failures of the healthcare industry in digital accessibility also present a powerful business opportunity. Which organizations will be the first to capitalize on this opportunity? Will yours be the one to embrace capitalism to make a positive impact? In addition to enhancing your business’s reputation, prioritizing digital accessibility is also the best preventative legal strategy.

Digital Accessibility Laws in the Healthcare Sector

Section 1557

Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of a variety of different classifications including disabilities. This law mandates that healthcare organizations make their digital resources and electronic communications accessible to people with disabilities.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed revisions to Section 1557 regulations. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the following programs.

  • All HHS programs and activities,
  • Health insurance issuers who receive federal financial assistance, and
  • All health programs and activities include those services offered via telehealth, which must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that administers Medicare programs requires its communications to be accessible. This includes policy documents, member handbooks etc. to be accessible to all its beneficiaries, regardless of their ability.

Rising Digital Accessibility Lawsuits in the Healthcare Sector

Digital accessibility lawsuits are at an all-time high, and no organization is invulnerable to this trend. Nor is it expected to slow down. For example, in 2022, more than 3,000 organizations endured accessibility-related lawsuits for compliance violations.

The legal precedent favors digital accessibility, resulting in litigation against thousands of organizations—including many in the healthcare sector. Examples include the following cases:

  • On October 25, 2021, Cheryl Thurston filed a complaint against K Health, Inc., alleging that their website was inaccessible. K Health is a Health Care Providers and Services Company founded in 2016 and headquartered in New York.
  • On September 14, 2021, Brittney Mejico filed a complaint against WCG Health Management, Inc., alleging that their website was inaccessible. WellCare Health Plans was founded in 1985 and is headquartered in Tampa, Florida.

The Relationship between Digital Literacy and Accessible Healthcare

Digital literacy enables individuals to thrive in a world where digital technology is increasingly essential for communication and accessing information. Unfortunately, older adults and those with low-tech literacy are often intimidated by technology, which can negatively affect patient care. So, what is the best approach to overcome this challenge?

Educating people about digital healthcare solutions can help alleviate their fear of technology. These hese solutions benefit people facing related challenges, such as senior citizens who live far away from their healthcare providers. Additionally, remote access, reduced risk of contagions, and real-time medical advice can encourage people to desire to opt-in.

Naturally, it is essential to start somewhere, and the tips below can be beneficial in this regard.

5 Tips to Enhance Digital Healthcare and Accessibility

Improving digital access to healthcare is an ethical choice that should be a top priority for healthcare facilities and organizations. To help you get started in the right direction, the following tips can be useful.

Understand accessibility standards

Healthcare providers should have a good understanding of accessibility standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. This provides guidelines on how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. By following these guidelines, providers can ensure that their websites, patient portals, and other digital tools are accessible.

Consider user testers with disabilities in the testing process

Healthcare providers should consider including people with disabilities in their user testing process. This can help identify potential barriers to accessibility. It allows providers to make necessary adjustments before launching a product or service. User testers can provide valuable feedback on ease of navigation, use digital tools, or access healthcare information.

Integrate assistive technology

Healthcare providers should integrate assistive technology, such as screen readers, voice recognition software, etc., into their digital tools. This can help people with disabilities access healthcare information and services more easily. For example, screen readers can help people with visual impairments navigate websites. While voice recognition software can help people with mobility impairments input data into a computer.

Integrate AAC devices

Healthcare providers should also integrate Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices for patients who have difficulty communicating verbally. AAC devices can help patients express their needs and communicate with healthcare providers, which can improve their overall healthcare experience. Providers should work with patients and their families to identify the most appropriate AAC devices for their needs.

Provide alternate content formats

Finally, healthcare providers should provide alternate content formats, such as audio and video recordings. This helps patients who have difficulty reading or processing written information. Providers should also ensure that any visual information, such as diagrams or charts, is accompanied by descriptive text. This makes it accessible to people with visual impairments.

By following these five strategies, healthcare providers can make their services more accessible to people with disabilities. They can improve the overall healthcare experience for everyone.

Digital Healthcare and More: Embracing Accessibility

As digital technology continues to progress, healthcare websites and patient portals are becoming increasingly complex. This progress, unfortunately, can create obstacles to achieving accessible healthcare. According to a survey by the AHIMA Foundation and Knowbility, people with various disabilities encounter difficulties accessing digital information.

However, this issue isn’t limited to medical care access. It affects all business sectors and geographic locations worldwide. Therefore, we must collaborate to support disability communities worldwide. Improving digital healthcare is a significant step in the right direction.

Thankfully, available solutions make digital accessibility possible, which benefits not only people with disabilities but also the broader patient population. Discover how UserWay can be your go-to source for web compliance and digital technology in healthcare.

codemantra: Digital Accessibility for the Healthcare Sector

codemantra provides an AI-powered platform that enables healthcare organizations to ensure digital accessibility. It helps them comply as per ADA, WCAG, and other related laws. By leveraging codemantra’s platform, healthcare organizations can increase inclusivity for all patients. They can improve their business performance while avoiding potential legal complications.

If you’re a healthcare organization looking to improve digital accessibility and compliance, don’t hesitate to contact us and begin your accessibility journey today!

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