These days, DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives are all the rage. We’re more careful about acknowledging and embracing diverse identities, more conscious of representation in hiring processes and in boardrooms, and doing what we can to improve access, while also considering the impact of our actions on the communities we serve. In medicine and even in medical equipment sales, however, members of the disabled community could be forgiven for wondering if many practices got the memo, especially concerning medical imaging, radiology equipment, and accessible X-ray machines.Design and Equip Your Practice for Accessibility.
Medical Barriers Faced by the Disabled
The disabled face cultural and structural barriers in addition to any limitations that may arise from their disability. The National Institutes of Health estimates that those with significant disabilities comprise more than 12% of the population, and acknowledges that they face significant disparities in accessibility, quality of care, and treatment outcomes. What are the consequences of this?
- Higher costs for care and transportation alike
- Physical barriers posed by narrow doorways, lack of ramps, poor signage, and a dearth of equipment like accessible X-ray machines and height-adjusting treatment tables
- A lack of training and skills in treating the disabled among practitioners and staff
As a result, the disabled are more likely to rate their health as fair or poor than those who are not disabled.
Benefits of Accessibility
The benefits of improved accessibility are twofold.
Accessibility Benefits the Disabled
Addressing the disparities we mentioned earlier has clear benefits for the disabled. Improved diagnostics lead in turn to earlier intervention and treatment, followed by improved quality of life overall.
Accessibility Benefits Your Practice
While some practices do the yeoman’s work of improving accessibility, many others treat it as an afterthought. A reputation for accessibility can raise your profile and reputation alike, while the improved quality of care you can provide will in turn remind you of what drew you to your field in the first place. We think that’s a win-win.
How Can Medical Practices Better Accommodate Those with Disabilities?
As Dr. Joel Michael Reynolds notes in the AMA Journal of Ethics,
“[P]eople with disabilities, on the whole, flourish in all sorts of bodies and in all sorts of ways. What many people with disabilities do report as diminishing quality of life is often less the direct effect of their physical or psychological impairments than the effects of living in a society that is designed for and supportive of able-bodied people alone.”
So how do we make healthcare accessibility a fact of life?
- Listen to your patients: a common refrain in disabled communities is “Nothing about us without us.” When your patients have something to tell you about their accessibility concerns, take them seriously. But don’t stop there; address those concerns in tangible, meaningful ways.
- Understand the diversity of disabled populations: Disability takes many forms, including cognitive, intellectual, and sensory disabilities in addition to more obvious physical disabilities. Not all patients will be comfortable disclosing or discussing them, especially if they’ve been shamed or denigrated for them in the past.
- Remember, this is accessibility for all: What you do to improve accessibility for disabled patients will often have a follow-on effect of improving care for all of your patients, and making it easier for you and your staff to deliver a higher standard of care overall. Accessible diagnostics, from mammograms to open MRIs to X-ray machines designed to accommodate the disabled, are ultimately for everyone’s benefit.
- Familiarize yourself and your staff with relevant guidelines: Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990 are intended to improve access to employment, services, telecommunications, and places of public accommodation. If you require assistance with selecting accessible medical equipment, or with medical equipment installation — which can be challenging, especially when introducing new equipment in tight spaces — Great Lakes Imaging can help.
- Revisit and train, getting outside help when you can: Here, we return to our first point. Multiple resources and consultants are originating from disabled communities; enlist them to ensure that you’re designing a practice that’s accessible to all, and when you need help equipping that practice, turn to Great Lakes Imaging.