People with disabilities may experience barriers that make it more difficult for people to carry out daily activities like visiting primary care providers. For this reason, Title III of the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act bans discrimination against people with disabilities by places of public accommodation. This includes healthcare providers.
Also, instead of conducting business in person, many people with disabilities prefer using the Internet to find information and access services. This means that primary care practices must invest in web accessibility to better serve patients with disabilities.
Web Accessibility and Traditional Primary Care
A series of rulings and decisions by the U.S. Department of Justice have generally found that the provisions of the ADA apply not only to physical doctor’s offices but also to virtual extensions such as websites.
Beyond the ADA, other regulations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services strongly suggest that primary care providers should have an accessible website:
- As of 2016, health care providers that receive federal assistance such as Medicare must provide “meaningful access” to people with disabilities, including via electronic and information technologies (EIT).
- New Medicaid rules effective July 2017 require healthcare providers’ EIT services to comply with “modern accessibility standards.”
Making your website accessible helps you and your patients with disabilities in several ways. It makes it easier for patients to find your address and business hours, to schedule appointments, and to read important health information. By catering to people with disabilities, you’ll be more likely to receive their business and establish long-term patient relationships. Finally, you’ll avoid the risks of financial penalties and lawsuits that can occur when your website is insufficiently accessible.
Web Accessibility and Virtual Primary Care
Web accessibility is even more important for virtual primary care providers — those healthcare organizations that primarily treat patients via web and mobile applications. Instead of requiring patients to be physically present in a doctor’s office, virtual primary care providers diagnose issues using messages, photographs, phone calls, video chats, and patient records. They can also create long-term treatment plans by prescribing medications, ordering tests, and referring patients to specialists.
With all of their business conducted online, virtual primary care providers with inaccessible websites won’t be able to serve many of their patients with disabilities. These patients constitute nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population.
Meanwhile, for obvious reasons, many people with disabilities find it easier to use a virtual primary care provider rather than a traditional in-person primary care provider. According to one study, 95 percent of patients were satisfied with their “visit” to a virtual primary care provider.
Virtual primary care providers must ensure that patients with hearing, vision, motor, and cognitive disabilities are able to have full access to their services.
Primary care providers are not invulnerable to the threat of ADA website accessibility lawsuits. For example, HCA Holdings, which owns more than 100 hospitals and healthcare facilities in the U.S., was recently sued for the alleged inaccessibility of these organizations’ websites to blind users. Whether virtual or traditional, primary care providers need to comply with accessibility standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
To learn more about how your healthcare organization can make its website accessible, schedule a free 30-minute consultation with the Bureau of Internet Access today.