As a medical practice, you know how important bedside manner is for generating patient satisfaction. But no matter how proficient your practice is, you can't deliver your services without getting patients in the door. Over 80% of patients select practitioners by researching their medical practice website and patient reviews. Did you know that one out of four adult patients lives with a disability? That means up to 25% of people viewing your website require ADA compliance to effectively absorb your content. Many practices aren't aware that their website needs to be compliant, since the ADA doesn't overtly broadcast it. But the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) outline clear requirements for website compliance, and those failing to comply are being hit with serious lawsuits. Take a look at what ADA compliance for medical practices means for your website, and how PracticeBeat can help you access patients and avoid costly litigation.
Many Practices Are Unaware of ADA Website Compliance Requirements
If you weren't aware that your medical practice website needs to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, you aren't alone. In 2018, new ADA regulations resulted in lawsuits filed for website inaccessibility against companies ranging from clothing stores, to restaurants, to medical practices, to e-commerce stores. Even industry giants weren't immune to compliance issues, including Nike, Time, Rolex, Hershey's, and Amazon. Surprisingly, companies with the most insider intel, like The Wall Street Journal and CNN, also failed to comply with certain WCAG principles.
New changes to section 508 in 2018 target medical practices, specifically. Since healthcare is of paramount importance to people living with disabilities, the focus is aimed at medical practices to create easy access for impaired patients. The two most common grievances relate to people with vision or hearing impairments. Both of these issues are easy to address with website formatting, yet many companies are unaware of their responsibilities. Companies that fail to comply face a host of issues, including:
- loss of contracts, funding, and government assistance
- loss of reputation and credibility
- loss of up to 25% of patients
- loss of revenue due to litigation
Litigations are Pushing Medical Practice Websites Toward Accessibility
ADA standards are set by the Department of Justice. Doctor's offices were among the first locations required by Title III of the ADA to prevent discrimination against persons with disabilities, and judges are now ruling that websites are part of that equation. Website litigation is expected to rise in 2020, as reports project 3 or more lawsuits are being filed each day. 5,000 Title III lawsuits were filed in the first half of 2018 alone, and that number continued to rise throughout 2019.
Judges are ruling in favor of plaintiffs as the federal government seeks to clarify guidelines even further. Successful lawsuits have included everything from imperceptible colors, to illegible fonts, to an inability to hear text read out loud. Standards have already been exacted against reputable practices like Well-Point (now Anthem) sued by two visually impaired persons trying to access the main webpage. HCA Holdings was sued by a legally blind patient for lack of alternative text for images and poor keyboard navigation. Tenet Healthcare was sued for having a website that was inaccessible by screen-readers. Lawsuits are an unnecessary burden to doctors and patients, and are often the result of medical practices being uninformed. Most doctors want to reach their patients and provide a user-friendly website, but aren't sure what is required.
Examples of Required Accessibility Features
Compliance is an emerging and rapidly shifting topic, so having an industry expert on your side will keep you on track. Fortunately, you aren't alone in tackling the compliance issue, since companies like PracticeBeat exist to keep your website ahead of the trends. Here are just few things outlined by WCAG 2.1 that we can help you address. Take a look at what the Department of Justice expects for medical websites.
Principle 1: Perceivable
Being perceivable requires adherence to four guidelines including text alternatives like braille, symbols, or larger text. Time-based media must offer variable speed, captioning, and audio options, and content must be adaptable in layout and orientation. Proper use of color, text, background noise, and contrast must make the content distinguishable.
Principle 2: Operable
Operability starts with making your website fully keyboard operable, meaning no keyboard traps or required timing for specific keystrokes, and the ability to remap keyboard shortcuts. Users need sufficient time to read or use content and the option to control blinking, scrolling, and auto-updating information. Interruptions must be stoppable, and re-authenticating should not induce data loss or halted activity. Users should be warned of time-outs caused by inactivity. Websites should not contain content known to cause seizures of physical reactions, which includes flashes occurring more than 3 times per second, or flashes below general thresholds. Animations triggered by activity should allow disabling. The website should be easily navigable with page titles and a clear purpose and sequence that allows users to bypass blocks of repeated content. Input modalities should include pointers, labels, motion actuations, target sizing, and concurrent input mechanisms.
Principle 3: Understandable
This starts with the webpage being readable, and includes options like preferred language. A mechanism should exist to identify abbreviations, pronunciations, or unusual words, and the reading level should not exceed lower secondary education level without a supplemental version available. The webpage should function in a predictable manner with regard to input, navigation, consistent identification, and change of context. Input assistance should identify errors and provide instructions and error prevention, as well as help with context.
Principle 4: Robust
Content should be robust- meaning thorough enough to be comprehended by a wide range of users. This includes compatibility with assistive technologies, parsing, and determinable names, roles, and values. In the case of markup text, it can be programmatically determined and presented to the user by assistive technologies for maximum compatibility. Ensuring your text is compatible with screen-reading software is a good first step.
How to Avoid Fines Due to Non-Compliance
First things first, meet with a compliance expert to determine where your website falls short. Most websites don't require all the changes. For example, your practice might not utilize time-based media or animations. You might choose audio instead of braille, or avoid blinking and scrolling content completely. Don't be overwhelmed by the guidelines, just seek a trusted source to simplify the process. The most important thing you can do is start now, since medical practices are under the microscope in these investigations. Fines can reach $75,000 per issue, and are easily avoidable with the help of website developers. A combination of manual and automated testing can measure your website against every standard to determine where you fall short. A quick assessment is the best way to keep your practice safe, and reach every patient who needs you. It's important to partner with a company who will periodically check your website for compliance issues, since government regulations frequently change.
Examples of Full ADA Compliance
Addressing ADA compliance is crucial to avoid litigation, and your practice may be at risk. The good news is, PracticeBeat can quickly correct your website to make it beneficial for all. Most medical practice websites need to address the following issues at minimum to avoid potential lawsuits.
- Text is available in alternate format such as audio, braille, or larger font
- Videos include captioning and volume adjustment, as well as pause options
- Information must be digestible at lower education levels and by those with impairments
- Make job listings completable in several formats for those with disabilities
If you're unsure whether your website is ADA compliant, it's essential to have it assessed. Schedule a free demo of PracticeBeat to learn how your practice might be at risk. We'll optimize your online presence with SEO and ADA compliance so you reach the most patients, in the most accessible way. Contact us today to protect your practice and your patients.