Summary: Healthcare companies are increasingly among those targeted as the number of digital accessibility lawsuits continues to trend upwards. Which ones, what’s the impact, and what can companies do to ensure compliance? Read more to find out.
We continue to witness an uptick in the number of digital accessibility lawsuits, with more than 2,800 suits filed in federal court in 2021. That’s a 14 percent jump from 2020, and we expect the numbers to continue to rise. While plaintiffs’ firms are targeting organizations in every industry and of every size, the prognosis isn’t good if you’re a healthcare company. We’re noticing more healthcare website accessibility complaints filed against hospitals, clinics, doctors, insurance providers, drug stores, and many other health-related organizations.
So who’s being sued? What’s the impact? And what can you do to ensure your online experiences are accessible? We cover all your healthcare website accessibility questions in this quick read.
First things first: What is digital accessibility?
If a digital experience isn’t designed and developed with the needs and perspectives of individuals with disabilities in mind, they simply will not be able to interact with that experience. As we’ve shifted to a post-pandemic, digitally driven society, ensuring a healthcare site is accessible has arguably never been more important. Think about how many patients now rely on telehealth to interact with their provider, or those who need to access a digital version of their test results. The quality of access to that digital experience directly impacts the quality of care people with disabilities receive.
Digital accessibility is the act of ensuring websites, mobile apps, software, and other technologies are accessible. That is, free from barriers if, for example, someone relies on an assistive technology to interact with them. And while you’re probably thinking, “Ensuring this level of access is simply the right thing to do,” (and we agree), digital accessibility is also a legal requirement.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was written to prohibit discrimination. However, because it’s now more than 30 years old, the Act itself does not address modern technology such as websites or mobile apps. However, the Department of Justice (DOJ), the agency that regulates and enforces the ADA, has taken the stance that the ADA does apply to the digital world. U.S. courts have overwhelmingly agreed with this position.
Recent healthcare-related lawsuits
With this legal precedent in favor of digital accessibility, plaintiffs’ lawyers have initiated litigation against tens of thousands of organizations—including many in healthcare. They include:
- Thurston v. K Health, Inc.—K Health provides 24/7 personalized care by board-certified clinicians through a phone.
- Mejico v. WCG Health Management, Inc.—WCG maintains the website WellCare.com, which connects individuals to healthcare providers and plans, and offers Medicare products.
- Mageno v. Discovery Health Services, a California corporation—Discovery Health Services maintains the website hummingbirdrx.com, which offers COVID-19 testing services.
- Roman v. ODA Primary Health Care Network, Inc.—ODA maintains the website odahealth.org, which offers numerous healthcare facilities in New York.
- Rendon v. Health4Home, LLC—Health4Home maintains the website, HandsFreeHealth.com, which offers a voice-enabled, HIPAA-compliant digital health platform to keep seniors, caregivers, and families connected.
And keep in mind, these cases represent a very small sample of organizations facing litigation for lack of healthcare website accessibility compliance. Dozens, if not hundreds more complaints have been filed with organizations that have settled outside of court after having received an ADA demand letter.
If you’ve received an ADA Demand Letter or are the subject of a lawsuit, be sure to download our ADA Demand Letter Playbook: A step-by-step guide for your response and ongoing compliance
The impact of accessibility
Even one barrier—like an improperly labeled button—on a website can impact the experience for a user. At best, that barrier is merely a frustration. At worst, it may prevent them from receiving personalized medical care, COVID-19 testing information, or access to a quality healthcare facility. And with accessibility errors on the vast majority of modern websites, the impact to patient care is astronomical.
On the positive side of this legal uptick sits a valuable opportunity. Organizations can gain serious benefits from taking healthcare website accessibility seriously:
- Retain customers: Accommodate the needs of every patient and you reduce the chance they’ll leave you for a more accommodating competitor.
- Demonstrate your commitment to inclusion: Digital accessibility is all about operating and maintaining inclusive experiences. Authentically demonstrate your commitment to DEI by prioritizing accessibility.
- Drive referrals: Patients who have a smooth online experience are more satisfied. And satisfied patients will likely recommend you to others.
- Boost business: Americans with disabilities spend $868 billion annually on healthcare. Is your company on the receiving end of this spending?
- Reduce legal risk: Avoid a costly, reputation-damaging lawsuit and the stressful impact of battling a civil rights claim in court.
Achieving digital accessibility
So how can healthcare companies ensure their online experiences are accessible? Engage with Level Access. We will equip your organization with all of the tools, resources, expertise, training, and legal support needed to provide an inclusive online experience, whether on one website or across a portfolio of assets. We support your legal counsel to maintain compliance with applicable laws. But most importantly, we help you create a barrier-free user experience for all of your patients, enabling them to seamlessly interact with the critical healthcare information and services they need, whenever they need them. Request a demo today.
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