Despite making up a significant portion of the population, people with disabilities still face numerous healthcare barriers. In fact, a study by University of Kansas researchers revealed that one in three adults with disabilities don’t have healthcare providers and have unmet health needs — even if they are in great need of healthcare services. So while healthcare services are a human right, 61 million Americans with disabilities still struggle with the inaccessibility and exclusivity of health care.
Recognizing the physical barriers to healthcare services, providers have been using telehealth services to reach and serve people with disabilities. Though this is a great step towards improvement, a few key elements are missing from most telehealth services.
What’s Missing in Telehealth Services
Telehealth services reduced the physical barriers to healthcare services, thus increasing the accessibility. While this can minimize logistical challenges or even reduce commuting costs, patients with disabilities still experience numerous limitations in telehealth services.
However, medical professionals from Texas highlight that patients with disabilities cannot even sign up for telehealth services, especially if they face infrastructure limitations like poor internet connectivity or even lack access to medical and assistive technologies. If patients can access these telehealth services, the medical professionals pointed out that they still have to face logistical challenges whenever they need laboratory services or diagnostic studies.
It’s also crucial to consider each disability since the medical professionals emphasized that many telemedicine platforms do not support communication features for individuals who are deaf, blind, or with cognitive disabilities. People with limited mobility or manual dexterity disabilities could also struggle with virtual interfaces, making telehealth services inaccessible for numerous individuals.
How Can Telehealth Be More Accessible and Inclusive?
Address infrastructure barriers among patients
Telehealth services cannot be accessible and inclusive to patients with disabilities, especially if they don’t have access to the assistive technologies and infrastructures that they may need.
To ensure that patients can participate in the telehealth consultations, Telecommunication Relay Services can be provided for individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, or struggling with speech disorders. This allows patients to use their personal computers, laptops, or even their phones to better manage phone and video calls. Individuals with disabilities can also be provided with printed information, audio recordings, or Braille from the consultation so that they can easily access crucial data about their health.
Leverage accessible telehealth platforms
Video conferencing platforms can reduce the physical and transportation challenges that people with disabilities face, but individuals may still struggle with the operations and limitations of these apps.
Rather than simply using video conferencing tools, Wheel shows how physicians are accessible via virtual care platforms so that they can provide virtual diagnosis and treatment, remote patient monitoring, as well as lab requisitions and reviews. With telehealth sessions now available on virtual care platforms, patients with disabilities can be provided with comprehensive health services in a more inclusive setup. Patients won’t need to travel to other locations or pay for transportation fees, now they can access the necessary healthcare services in one go.
Improve patient-provider communication
Apart from leveraging assistive technologies or inclusive platforms, it’s also crucial to improve the communication between healthcare providers and individuals with disabilities.
Since misunderstandings, errors, and oversights are pretty common, our article entitled ‘Communication is Key’ points out that numerous clients have left home care companies due to poor communication. Rather than using complex jargon, providers need to care for each specific client by explaining their health status or medications clearly and in terms that make sense to the patients. Some might even benefit from working with professional interpreters and other specialists so that complex diagnoses or concepts can be properly discussed during consultations.
Telehealth services have a lot of potential in becoming an inclusive and accessible healthcare solution. As such, it’s crucial to address the common barriers that people with disabilities face so that everyone can have equal access to quality virtual care services.
Article written by Rhea Jimena
Exclusively for The STAR Center