Currently, the AODA does not have a healthcare standard. A committee is making recommendations about what a healthcare standard should include. In the meantime, however, there are still AODA requirements for healthcare providers to follow. The Customer Service Standards have regulations that apply to healthcare providers. When providers follow these requirements, they make healthcare services more accessible to patients, workers, and visitors with disabilities. Customer service standards in healthcare apply to service in:
- Doctors’ offices
- Walk-in clinics
- Wellness centres
- Health Regulating Colleges
Current Customer Service Standards in Healthcare
Under the Customer Service Standards, healthcare providers need to make their goods, services, and facilities accessible to people with disabilities. For instance, providers must:
- Create, implement, and maintain accessibility policies
- Welcome people using service animals, support persons, and/or assistive devices
- Maintain accessibility during temporary disruptions of accessible services
- Train staff to communicate with customers who have disabilities and to use accessibility equipment on site
- Implement processes for receiving and responding to feedback about their accessibility
- Provide information using accessible formats and communication supports upon request and in a timely manner
Stronger Customer Service Standards in Healthcare are Needed
The Customer Service Standards mandate many important requirements for healthcare providers and other organizations to become accessible. However, there are no guidelines advising organizations on how to implement these requirements. For instance, the mandate about training lists the topics that the training needs to address. However, the mandate does not state how providers can educate themselves on these topics to train their employees. In addition, providers can choose types of training that offer different levels of information, such as classroom sessions or handouts. On one hand, this lack of direction can be helpful. For instance, organizations developing their own policies and training can tailor them specifically to their clientele and services. On the other hand, the lack of guidance is harmful when providers have no experience with accessibility.
Providers uncomfortable working with patients who have disabilities may not know how to train themselves or their employees. They may easily create brief policies and training modules that do not cover everything they should. When healthcare workers receive little accessibility training, they may think that a patient’s health problem is due to their disability when the two concerns are not connected. For example, a patient who uses a wheelchair may come to the emergency room. Staff with little accessibility training may spend time trying to learn about the patient’s disability instead of diagnosing their health concern.
Moreover, a healthcare worker may not know how to accommodate treatment to a patient’s disability. For instance, a patient with an intellectual disability may have multiple treatment options with different instructions and side effects. Staff might think it best to choose one treatment instead of taking the time to communicate all options in an accessible way.
Thorough accessibility training for all healthcare workers would ensure that all Ontarians have quality care. A healthcare standard should ensure that all Ontarians have equal access to medical practitioners who respect and understand their needs. Therefore, the new healthcare standard should include specific recommendations about what training and policies should include. However, all customer service organizations should show equal respect and understanding for customers with disabilities. Revised Customer Service Standards in healthcare could also benefit from more guidance within the training mandate.