A great deal has been made of the ability of telehealth to fill the gap in accessibility for those who might otherwise be underserved by healthcare systems.
But telehealth may also worsen inequities faced by the disability population, experts said in a new paper published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.
"There remains a pressing need to explicitly consider how changes in the prevalence and ubiquity of telehealth impact people with disabilities,"There remains an urgent need to explicitly consider how changes in the prevalence and ubiquity of telehealth influence individuals with disabilities.
Why does it matter?
The authors of the paper noted that universal access to telehealth services could enhance health care for certain people with disabilities.
They pointed out that it can be difficult for many to organise travel, arrange caregiver assistance and manage public spaces in search of in-person care, not to mention the possible accessibility barriers in clinics.
"Yet if telehealth technologies are not designed, implemented, and contextualised within appropriate policies, these benefits cannot be realised, and instead could worsen health inequities within this population," they wrote.
The design of telehealth technology remains inaccessible to many, the authors wrote. For example people with communication-related disabilities can not be able to use video-based programmes, and assistive technology is not always compatible with patient portals.
For health IT the authors outlined several design considerations, including:
- Compatibility of Assistive technologies and Intuitive user interfaces
- Multiple contact modes
- Standards to allow sign language on the same screen or closed captioning as the service given
- Features that promote multiple and distinct user types
- It is also important to consider implementation, wrote the authors. They acknowledged that the disability population is overwhelmingly less likely to have access to broadband and hardware, and that learning how to use modern types of technology may require assistance for certain patients.
The paper also drew attention to the context of disability and telehealth policies. Legally, it is not necessary to refuse services to people with disabilities, but progress has been slow in implementing legislation mandating fair access. Read More from Source