Access Ready Healthcare
When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, the Internet as we know it today did not exist as the ubiquitous infrastructure for information. Neither did the possibility of information technology driven healthcare. Today, the Internet plays a critical role in the daily, professional, personal and healthcare life of Americans. Increasingly, public and private healthcare entities are providing goods and services to the public through websites that operate as places of public accommodation under Titles II and III of the ADA. Many of these websites providing healthcare information render use by individuals with disabilities difficult or impossible due to barriers raised by inaccessibility. An Access Ready policy is intended to advance accessibility across the information technology used by the healthcare industry.
Being unable to access healthcare websites puts individuals with disabilities at a great disadvantage. Today’s healthcare system is developing into a dynamic information technology-driven marketplace which provides unprecedented access to the latest medical information. More and more, individuals are turning to the Internet to obtain healthcare information by researching diagnoses they have received or symptoms that they are experiencing. Given the advances and costs of healthcare everyone has a right and in fact a responsibility to take advantage of the information available to them for themselves, and their families. People with disabilities have these same rights and responsibilities. Access Ready information technology designs inaccessibility from the outset. Embracing an Access Ready policy can accomplish this over a five-year budget cycle without real difficulty.
There is a myriad of websites that provide information about causes, risk factors, complications, test and diagnosis, treatment and drugs, prevention, and alternative therapies for just about any disease or illness. Moreover, healthcare and insurance providers are increasingly offering patients the ability to access their healthcare records electronically via websites. It is now difficult to imagine a world without the unprecedented access to information that the web provides. Most healthcare providers now rely on the Internet in the new patient process for insurance eligibility, appointment scheduling, and for other administrative functions. By adopting an Access Ready policy, healthcare providers can achieve and maintain access for patients with disabilities. Becoming accessible is only the beginning, without policies in place to maintain it, the effort is wasted.
It is possible to order medications and medical devices online, file necessary forms and documentation and communicate with medical staff. Information technology is dramatically changing the way that healthcare serves the public. It is also changing how healthcare workers do their jobs. As an industry, the healthcare profession presents many opportunities for employment at all skill levels. To open up such opportunities it is vital that the employee facing information technologies used must be accessible to people with as wide a range of abilities as possible. The availability of online services not only makes life easier for those with access but also enables healthcare as an industry to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively. An Access Ready policy moves healthcare in a mutually advantageous direction.
As using information technology to access healthcare increases, the inability of individuals with disabilities to have access can have a significant adverse effect on their health. For healthcare to ignore people with disabilities who represent twenty-five percent of the population is unconscionable. If the healthcare industry adopted an Access Ready policy they would be able to better serve this group that is perhaps even more dependent on health care than the average person. The promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide an equal opportunity for protected individuals to participate in and benefit from all aspects of the American health care system will be achieved in today’s technologically advanced society only if it is clear to healthcare institutions that their information technology must be accessible.
Douglas George Towne
Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.