How COVID-19 has Impacted Healthcare for People with Disabilities

Posted on Wednesday, 15 July 2020 by Marissa Sapega

COVID-19 is forcing healthcare professionals and providers to adopt new public health guidelines like social distancing, face protection, and contact-less procedures. Pre-COVID, patients would think nothing of talking in close quarters with their physician or lending a friendly hand to an individual who needed guidance to find their way across a crowded waiting room. However, living in a post-pandemic society means taking special precautions to avert the spread of the deadly disease. But how do these measures affect people with disabilities?

Traditional face masks prevent lip reading

Only a small proportion of the general population is fluent in sign language. Many deaf individuals and those with poor hearing rely on lip-reading to enable them to communicate with others. But what happens when those lips are covered by a mask? Healthcare professionals find themselves in a position where writing or signing is the only way they can communicate with such patients. Luckily, enterprising firms have come up with solutions to this issue: clear masks.

Smart wearable medical devices and health tracking apps increase in popularity

The combination of quarantine orders and a reluctance to visit a healthcare facility in person due to the risk of contagion have supercharged the adoption of home devices that monitor health measures. Those with high blood pressure may consider using a tool like yet-to-be-released BPM Core, which monitors blood pressure and can detect silent heart conditions through its electrocardiogram functionality. Keeping tabs on your asthma is a lot easier when your medical device is linked to an app that documents your peak expiratory flow and forced expiratory volume. Apps like HealthTap allow you to connect with a community of real doctors to get answers to your health questions (which will provide you with far more peace of mind and better answers than Dr. Google). The allure of such devices is obvious, but, as digital products, they may not always be accessible to people with disabilities.

Telemedicine makes great strides as an acceptable alternative to face-to-face physician visits

Until recently, telemedicine and virtual doctor visits remained on the fringes of desirable medical care. Patients and providers alike overwhelmingly preferred the traditional method of in-person visits – though a part of that may have been a general reluctance to try new technology. Some individuals, hamstrung by tight schedules or lack of transportation, were early adopters, but telemedicine was not truly fully embraced until COVID-19 made an in-person doctor visit immeasurably more complicated and potentially dangerous.

The speed at which the adoption of telemedicine has taken place has been surprising, but many healthcare providers are jumping on board, sensing a massive opportunity. Patients, too, are realizing the benefits of a digital chat with their physician, allowing them to avoid dreaded purgatory of the waiting room and its concomitant responsibilities (finding childcare, taking time off from work, etc.). Those confined to bed rest or who find it physically difficult to move without assistance will rejoice as their more mundane physician check-ins can be performed from the comfort of their home. However, as with smart medical devices, telemedicine apps need to be accessible to people with disabilities, as they are often more vulnerable than the general population and require additional health care.

Kiosks step up their game

Checking in to a doctor’s appointment rarely requires the presence of an actual human to guide the patient through the process. With social distancing now de rigueur, medical practices and healthcare facilities have looked to kiosks as a way to keep the non-critical human-to-human contact to a minimum. ADA compliant kiosks are now key tools in the industry’s toolbelt as a resource to help keep patients safe without comprising care.

Access to high-quality healthcare is a significant factor in predicting life satisfaction and fulfillment. Healthcare will continue to evolve and utilize digital technology to improve outcomes and efficiency. Though COVID-19 may have accelerated the pace at which this happens, the accessibility of such technology should not be overlooked. For help in ensuring your organization’s medical technology is accessible, contact The Paciello Group today.

Stay tuned for an upcoming comprehensive blog post on accessibility and healthcare!


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