Why healthcare leaders can’t afford to ignore digital accessibility

Think Company
5 min readOct 10, 2023

Today, healthcare leaders’ effort (or lack of effort) in forming a comprehensive plan for digital accessibility profoundly impacts patient care and overall organizational success.

Digital tools play a central role in healthcare delivery — allowing patients to access healthcare information, schedule appointments, find medical records, communicate with healthcare providers, and much more. A focus on digital accessibility also paves the way for healthcare leaders to comply with regulatory mandates, mitigate legal risks, and improve their institution’s reputation as a patient-centered, modern provider.

Below, we’ll share key reasons that healthcare institutions can’t afford to ignore the importance of investing in improving accessibility across their digital tools and applications.

You’re probably not meeting the needs of your audience in crucial ways

You may assume you know and understand your patient audience, but there are several perspectives that a comprehensive focus on digital accessibility will make clear.

Broad patient feedback is essential to reveal gaps

When building digital accessibility into your patient personas, you’ll usually start by interviewing patients with physical, auditory, or visual disabilities to understand their specific challenges in accessing care.

But keep in mind that in a healthcare setting especially, a patient’s ability to access and use tools, find information, or complete tasks will vary quite widely:

  • A patient recovering from wrist or hand surgery may have difficulty navigating your site with a mouse.
  • A mother caring for a new baby may have a hard time juggling breastfeeding while using a keyboard to log into your patient portal.
  • An elderly patient’s spouse logging them on to a telehealth appointment may find it difficult to read small or low-contrast text instructions.

The above scenarios are incredibly common for patients at all points of care-and they’re all examples of specific, individual situations that would be directly improved by tools designed with holistic digital accessibility in mind.

A patient’s end-to-end experience involves a complex mix of touchpoints

Think about the last time you visited a medical facility for an in-person appointment. You likely saw wheelchair ramps, automatic doors, elevators, and other accommodations to help people with various physical disabilities access care.

Today, most people will experience a patient journey through a combination of physical and digital touchpoints. Why should digital touchpoints fail to meet the needs of patients with any permanent, temporary, or situational disability? A service design mindset with digital accessibility baked in anticipates the needs of many patients across all points of care.

Your patient experience hinges on your employees’ digital experience

As a healthcare leader, you probably spend a lot of time focused on how digital tools are meeting patient needs. But the employees at your healthcare organization are crucial to the success of digital accessibility in 2 important ways:

Patient-facing staff need accessible tools, too

Nurses, doctors, office managers, case managers, patient experience reps, and many other healthcare professionals at medical facilities play a significant role in the experience of your patients and their care team. The abilities of all of these people-permanent, temporary, or situational-will need to be considered when assessing how they’ll need to interact with a patient care team digitally.

Your digital team needs modern knowledge and skills to push the organization forward

Better, more accessible tools and services start with your design team. It’s important to make accessibility a core tenant of your digital strategy, and this can’t happen without fostering a culture of learning and knowledge sharing.

Here are some simple ways to do that:

  • Deconstruct the notion that accessibility is a feature. Instead, it should be a pillar of digital projects from the first day, and should also be tested from the very beginning.
  • Empower employees by creating awareness. Provide training to every member of your team, whether it’s a course, lecture, or other professional development activities. Review your professional development budget to make sure your team has access to accessibility certifications and training-and then follow through.
  • Give your team a first-hand understanding of a users’ reality. Show videos that illustrate the experience of platforms that are non-accessible. Encourage designers and technologists to screen read sites while blindfolded, or use an extension that adds a colorblindness filter to digital tools.
  • Find allies. There are probably other people in your organization who are already enthusiastic about digital accessibility. Create a panel or a townhouse meeting to join forces and evangelize to senior leadership.

Your digital products will become outdated

Healthcare companies that neglect to invest in digital accessibility risk creating an outdated and alienating experience for their patients. Accessibility directly impacts the user experience. If not prioritized, your patients may end up feeling excluded and disheartened rather than engaged and trusting.

Investing in a design and technology audit can help you proactively keep your website up to date with the best design, UX, and accessibility practices in the industry. Many design-forward organizations (including Think Company) offer accessibility audits to measure core attributes across all of your digital properties, processes, and tools — so you can get immediate insight into what’s already working well and what needs work sooner rather than later.

You’ll miss out on bottom-line benefits

Investment in digital accessibility is always good for business-and healthcare organizations benefit in meaningful ways:

  • Improved brand reputation — A strong commitment to digital accessibility demonstrates that your healthcare organization is taking action to improve patient care. This commitment leads to increased patient loyalty and a better overall reputation as a modern provider.
  • Greater market reach — The population of people with disabilities is much more prevalent and expansive than one may think. The global market of people with disabilities is over 1 billion people-with a spending power of more than $6 trillion. Making your digital services accessible increases your probability of capturing more market share.
  • Reduced legal risk — Of course, ensuring the accessibility of digital platforms is a legal requirement. A proactive approach to digital accessibility minimizes the risk of legal action and shows that the company has positive intentions in the event of legal action.

Stay relevant-invest in a holistic approach to digital accessibility

By acknowledging the essential digital needs of patients and employees and taking a holistic approach to digital accessibility, healthcare leaders can keep their organizations relevant, expand their reach, improve brand reputation, and function according to modern digital standards. The path forward is clear: prioritize digital accessibility, and the benefits will ripple through every part of your organization.

If you’re ready to tackle your digital accessibility challenges, we can help.

Originally published at https://www.thinkcompany.com on October 10, 2023.

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Think Company

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