Healthcare and digital accessibility are inextricably linked, particularly for people with disabilities worldwide. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted in 2007, states that digital health solutions must be accessible for all, most notably people with impairments and other groups that benefit the least from healthcare.

The past couple of years has only emphasized the importance of accessibility in the healthcare sector. According to research published by Deloitte in 2015, over 50% of patients look for healthcare providers online before scheduling a consultation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for telehealth services, with utilization levels 38 times higher than pre-pandemic utilization.

As a result of increased demand, investment in digital healthcare increased threefold in 2020, and regulatory changes have encouraged both users and providers to increase their digital presence. The shift will likely persist beyond the pandemic as a slight majority of U.S. doctors expect online consultations to make up 20% of patient interactions in the near future.

As a healthcare provider, what do these trends mean? The first – and most obvious – implication is that you will need to invest in your digital infrastructure. Aside from ensuring your website can support multiple video conferencing sessions simultaneously, you will need to beef up your network and server security to comply with HIPAA and other data privacy regulations.

The second result of the shift to digital healthcare platforms is the need to ensure accessibility for everyone. While there are no hard and fast rules governing website accessibility for healthcare providers, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide standards for websites seeking to improve their usability.

There has also been a marked increase in lawsuits against healthcare providers based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

For example, HCA Holdings, with over 100 hospitals in its portfolio, was sued for major accessibility issues, including the lack of alt text images and support for keyboard navigation. CAC Florida Medical Centers, on the other hand, was sued because its website was not accessible to blind readers using screen readers.

These lawsuits contend that the lack of accessibility accommodations on healthcare providers’ websites keeps people with disabilities from booking patient visits, requesting medical records, and seeking medical advice.

While not all of these lawsuits have been successful, the cost of litigation alone has forced healthcare organizations to take a second look at their digital accessibility posture.

In addition to potential lawsuits, healthcare organizations are also rethinking their approach to accessibility because it makes good business sense. In the U.S. alone, over 50 million people live with disabilities. This number is bound to increase as baby boomers age and start having issues with their vision, hearing, and mobility.

How do you ensure that your healthcare organization website is accessible, particularly to users with visual impairments?

First, your web designers should help text stand out against its background with contrasting colors and patterns. Contrasting colors don’t just improve readability; they also allow users to identify and click on links within the text.

Contrasting patterns, on the other hand, benefit color-blind individuals who would otherwise not be able to distinguish the text from the background.

Font sizes should also be easily adjustable so users can read the text without affecting other website elements. Adding alt text to images and organizing page content with headings helps ensure that the screen readers can interpret the flow of the content accurately while improving your website’s SEO.

Finally, enabling keyboard controls can help visually-impaired visitors navigate web pages without using a mouse. Making the adjustments above can help your digital healthcare platform serve more patients, especially those with disabilities.