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Tackling Accessibility in Healthcare Technology Development

Medical Global Networking And Healthcare Global Network Connection On Tablet, Medical Technology.

Diversity, inclusivity, and accessibility are key to significant future growth in healthcare technology. Developing new digital tools, as well as integrating them into the digital health ecosystem, can lead to significant improvements in healthcare delivery. Good health shouldn’t have to wait and accessibility should not have to be up to the beneficiaries — the health IT industry can, and should, step up to the plate.

We have already achieved a sufficient level of technological advancements to be able to tackle accessibility in healthcare technology development. The next big leap in our industry may very well depend on whether we prioritize digital accessibility and digital equality within our process, in order to deliver built-in enhanced usability and functionality for all users.

With Greater Inclusion Comes Greater Reach

The World Report on Disability, published by the World Health Organization in 2011, found that roughly 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability — this significantly exceeded previous estimates, which suggested a prevalence of around 10%. It is worth noting, however, that the 15% reported at that time was likely an undercounted assessment, as researchers often faced the problem of encountering limited data sets, which were compiled according to indices that varied considerably across borders and cultures.

An example of good practices unto itself, the report took four years to put together and was a collaboration of more than 350 researchers around the world, many of them disabled. Refining and homogenizing methodologies is one step in the right direction — inclusive assessments that remain considerate of the fluidity of the disability concept make for a clearer picture and result in fewer groups and people being left behind in our rush for progress.

Keep Accessibility Top-Of-Mind

Today’s technology and innovation harbor great potential to enhance the capabilities of our healthcare ecosystem, but it is necessary to adjust our methods in order to achieve it. The first practical step in tackling accessibility in healthcare technology development is to acknowledge the disabilities that are challenged by insufficiently accessible technology.

Before we embark on inclusive healthtech design, let’s make sure we understand technological disability correctly. A person’s inability to use digital health services may be on account of specific chronic health issues such as mobility disabilities or vision, hearing, and speech impairments. Often, however, access is challenging for individuals suffering from temporary impairment disabilities, such as recovering from injury or surgery, as well as for older adults and caregivers who are not well versed in the interfaces so many of us take for granted — not only do such cases make up a significant percentage of the population, but they need regular health care access and efficient monitoring.

Focusing the user experience (UX) on inclusive accessibility instead of general (able) accessibility will likely increase the overall quality of the user experience for all beneficiaries. Moreover, it would raise the level of satisfaction regarding the healthcare experience as a whole, which ultimately consolidates a good reputation for vendors.

Improve Interoperability to Reduce Redundancy

Being able to seamlessly navigate all interactions within the healthcare environment can make a significant difference in a patient’s journey. UX design is not generally considered to be a life-or-death component of technology development. But in healthcare, it can be.

Our industry evolves and expands at an ever-faster pace, churning out new health IT and apps at breakneck speed. The resulting variety of operating systems creates barriers in data sharing and accessibility, which weighs down healthcare delivery with a myriad of unnecessary redundancies. Timely diagnosis and care issues can stem from situations in which providers do not have complete information or they face delays in accessing necessary data on account of issues as small as scan file type incompatibility.

Although the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) grants individuals the right to access their own health data, the process remains largely burdensome and lengthy for patients. Conversely, having to supply health information separately for every different provider makes the interaction inefficient for both patient and provider.

Tap Into Relevant Lived Experience Throughout Development

This should go without saying, but it is essential to include diverse individuals with various disabilities into your development process, from digital design to testing. There is no better way to ensure that your medical software solutions integrate enough assistive technology and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices.

Record detailed user experience feedback in order to identify any barriers to understanding and navigating the product. Take into account all levels of digital health literacy and provide adequate support and instruction throughout the patient’s experience.

Be a Digital Changemaker

Industry, governments, and end-users all have constructive value in the process of increasing accessibility, whether it’s by raising awareness of need, adopting relevant legislation and regulations, developing new standards, collaborating for universal design wherever possible, or offering training and support.

Expanding health into the digital medium is a valuable opportunity to make it more than just transforming a current state of affairs to a digital format — we can contribute to a reimagining of the patients’ journey into one that incorporates more efficiency and accessibility, and that is intentional about expanding delivery of care to more patients in need.

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Lysa Young-Bates

Lysa, a senior marketing manager, explores the business needs, consumer expectations, and industry challenges driving digital innovation in healthcare, life sciences, and financial services.

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