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The healthcare industry is quickly becoming digitized, making data collection easier and more convenient for patients and doctors. Unfortunately, many of these amazing, time-saving solutions are not accessible to people with disabilities, particularly those who are blind or low vision.

Digital Paperwork for New Patients

Some medical offices are beginning to use kiosks or tablets to allow patients to sign in and complete required paperwork. This eliminates the hassle of reading messy handwriting and insurance hang-ups due to human error (ever had them get your birthday wrong? It’s a major pain!). However, it creates a privacy problem for blind or low vision patients when those systems are not accessible.

Under HIPAA, a patient’s health information is private and confidential. But if a blind individual needs to complete new patient paperwork and those documents are not accessible, they must divulge their private and confidential medical information to a third party to complete the forms.

Having accessible digital forms would allow a blind or low vision individual to independently fill out the form, giving them the same right to privacy as a sighted patient.

Electronic Health Records

It seems that just yesterday, if a patient wanted a medical record, they had to phone the doctor’s office, have a staff member pull out their manila folder, locate the correct sheet of paper, and make a photocopy or send a fax.

Technology moves quickly and it has made many aspects of healthcare—such as acquiring copies of medical records—much easier. In the age of Electronic Health Records, a patient needs only log into their account to view the relevant data.

Under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, patients have the right to view their health records within a reasonable amount of time after their appointment. This should include an accessible format that is readable by a screen reader like JAWS or NVDA.

Online Health Portals

A survey done by the National Partnership revealed that online health portals have a positive impact on the health of their users and the trust between the patient and their health provider.

Patients who accessed an online health portal three or more times per year were shown to have greater trust that their health provider would protect their privacy (84% compared with 69% stating they trusted their provider “completely” or “a lot”).[i]

Accessible online portals would allow individuals with disabilities the same access to their health records, suggestions for improving their health, and other useful information. This would help to bridge the gap in the health care system and improve the overall health of people with disabilities. Given the challenges discussed in last week’s post, this would be a win-win situation!

Wearable Devices

The wearable devices market is brimming with options for every type of health monitoring you could want, such as steps, heart rate, blood pressure, or blood glucose. Sadly, many of the consumer-facing devices are not designed with accessibility in mind.

Accessibility problems include:

  • Information that is solely visual in nature (no touch or audio feedback)
  • Device displays so small that they are difficult to read for those with low vision
  • Vibration feedback does not provide enough information to be useful
  • Websites and/or apps tied to the device are inaccessible

The biggest issue with wearable devices is that they are often useless to persons with disabilities unless they can use the app. While a sighted individual can press a button on their pedometer and read their current number of steps, a low vision or blind individual must open the website or app, sync their device with the app, and then have the number of steps read to them. In the case of devices with apps or websites that are not accessible, this can be an impossible (or at the least, very frustrating) undertaking.

The easiest solution to the wearable device problem is to create accessible websites and applications. These eliminate many roadblocks that people with disabilities have when it comes to using these products to better their health.

Talking Prescription Labels

A sighted person would never take home an unlabeled bottle of pills from the pharmacy. Even if it’s a maintenance medication, sometimes the shape or color of the pill changes depending on the supplier. It’s reassuring to have the label to know what you are taking, how much, when, and any additional information or instructions (e.g., “Take with Food”).

But until recently, we were asking blind and visually impaired individuals to depend on a sighted third party to read their prescription labels. (Or worse, they had to open a bottle and hope they were taking the right pill.)

Talking prescription labels have been a lifesaver for these patients. There are two main types of talking labels:

  • ScripTalk: A microchip is placed in the label which can be scanned by a small base unit in the patient’s home. The base unit will announce the drug name, dosage, instructions, warnings, and the information for the doctor and pharmacy. ScripTalk information is read by a computer-generated voice.
  • TalkingRx & Talking Pill Reminder: These are lower-tech solutions for accessible prescription labels. A small device allows the pharmacy staff to record 30 to 60 seconds of information about the prescription. Staff are trained to play the recording for the patient before they leave the pharmacy to ensure that it is clear and understandable.

Want to Learn More? Access our on-demand Webinar:

Accessibility in the Healthcare Industry: Impact, Legal Risk, and the Path to Compliance

SSB CEO Tim Springer and Chief Accessibility Officer Jonathan Avila will be joined by attorney David McDowell of Morrison & Foerster LLP to discuss:

  • What types of healthcare technologies are being targeted with legal actions
  • The results of structured negotiation in the healthcare industry
  • Why accessibility requirements won’t change even if/when the ACA is repealed
  • What it means to be WCAG 2.0 compliant (in non-techy speak)
  • And more!

Read More and Access the Webinar Resources

[i] National Partnership for Women & Families, Engaging Patients and Families, pp. 39-40.