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 Information and Communications Standards have regulations that apply to healthcare providers. When providers follow these requirements, they make healthcare settings more accessible to patients, workers, and visitors with disabilities. Communication in healthcare applies to service in:
- Doctors’ offices
- Walk-in clinics
- Wellness centres
- Healthcare regulating colleges
Communication in Healthcare
Under the Information and Communications Standards, healthcare providers need to create, provide, and receive information and communications in ways accessible to people with disabilities. For instance, providers must:
- Have information available using accessible formats and communication supports, upon request
- Offer public emergency information in accessible formats or using communication supports, upon request
In addition, all public sector providers, and private sector providers with fifty or more workers, must make their websites accessible by January 1st, 2021.
Proactive Communication in Healthcare is Needed
The Information and Communications Standards mandate many important requirements for healthcare providers and other organizations to become accessible. However, providers could improve their services by providing information more proactively. For example, England’s National Health System contains an Accessible Information Standard. Under this standard, healthcare providers ask all patients if they have any information or communication needs. Providers then create records of individual patients’ needs and share these records with other providers, when possible. This procedure allows providers to make the formats and supports each patient needs available before their arrival, or quickly afterward. For instance, if a patient with a print disability needs blood work, their lab can prepare paperwork in the format the patient needs. Similarly, if a patient who uses plain-language documents comes to pick up a set of prescriptions, the pharmacy can have the information the patient needs available at the time of pick-up.
Stronger Communication in Healthcare is Needed
Under Ontario’s current Information and Communications Standards, these patients must explain their needs to every new provider they meet. Furthermore, they must request formats or supports at the time they are needed and wait until the provider can create them. Admirably, the Standards mandate that formats and supports must be available in a timely manner. However, in situations involving health, patients may need information immediately. For example, the patient picking up plain-language prescription information may wait days before understanding how to use their own prescriptions. Instead, they would need a loved one or volunteer to read information. Likewise, the patient needing blood work would need to have someone else read and fill in the form. Both these set-ups violate people’s right to privacy.
As more people develop disabilities, accessibility to information will become more important, in healthcare and in all other sectors. Our next few articles will explore ways to make more information available to more patients.