Currently, the AODA does not have a healthcare standard. A committee is making recommendations about what a healthcare standard should include. One issue that a healthcare standard should address is access to information. Healthcare providers should be required to make all information available to all patients. One way for providers to do so could be by posting information on accessible websites. Patients or other visitors with disabilities can read online healthcare information on accessible computers or phones.
Online Healthcare Information
Different kinds of healthcare providers should post online healthcare information. For instance:
- Doctors’ offices
- Walk-in clinics
- Wellness centres
- Healthcare regulating colleges
What Information should be Accessible Online?
Different providers could post different kinds of information. For example, hospitals could post guides or videos for patients if it is their first time:
- Staying in hospital
- Having surgery, x-rays, etc.
For instance, the Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) in Toronto offers information for first-time patients through videos and text in simple language. Some other hospitals offer only text information but they do not offer plain-language versions.
Similarly, pharmacies could upload guides or videos of how to take different kinds of medication. There could also be a multi-pharmacy database archiving instructions for medications. Patients with print disabilities could log on to learn how to use medications that doctors have prescribed for them. Moreover, the archive could also contain plain-language versions of prescription instructions. Simple language, and pictures or diagrams, could be helpful for patients with intellectual disabilities, patients learning English, or patients with low literacy.
Likewise, doctors’ offices, clinics, and labs could make copies of print forms available online for patients. Instead of handing every patient a print form, health practitioners could give all patients the option to fill the form out in print or submit it online. Many patients might prefer this option, because it would be environmentally friendly.
Online Awareness of Accessible Features
Finally, all healthcare providers can use their websites as a way to advertise their accessible features. For instance, providers can state on their websites if they have accessible structural features, such as:
In addition, providers can advertise other accessible equipment they have, such as:
- Height-adjustable examination tables
- Accessible diagnostic equipment, such as scales
Larger organizations should also mention any accessibility equipment or services available on-site for patients or visitors, such as:
- Assistive listening systems
- Sign language interpretation
- Closed, open, or real-time captioning
- Communication boards
- Augmentative or alternative communication (AAC) devices
Smaller providers that do not have such services or equipment available on-site can state their willingness to accommodate patients who bring or arrange their own. For instance, providers can state their welcome of patients or visitors who use communication supports or devices.
Standardized Online Healthcare Information is Needed
Moreover, hospitals around Ontario offer widely different amounts and kinds of accessibility information on their websites. For example, Sick Kids provides detailed information about where patients and families can find or request a variety of accessible services. In contrast, other hospitals, such as the Georgian Bay General Hospital, have shorter accessibility pages that direct patients to their AODA-mandated accessibility plans. This type of page does not give patients useful information such as:
- Which door they can enter using a wheelchair
- Whether volunteers are available to escort patients
- How far in advance to book an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter
Furthermore, some hospitals have strong accessibility pages, but they overlook accessibility when they implement new or unique services. For instance, the Kingston General Hospital has placed whiteboards in all of its patient rooms, so that different medical professionals and family members involved in a patient’s care can communicate more easily. However, their accessibility page does not mention how they would make this unique and valuable service accessible to a patient, visitor, or healthcare professional who is blind or deafblind.
In other words, hospitals are uneven in their posting of online healthcare information. An AODA healthcare standard should address this gap, so that all healthcare providers offer the detailed information that patients need and deserve.
The first step to creating online healthcare information is for providers to make their websites accessible. Our next article will offer more information about accessible websites.