Now is a good time to check the accessibility of your medical office to patients in wheelchairs and review your process for communicating with the hearing impaired. New scrutiny is coming, prompted by the 22nd anniversary of passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced a renewed focus on making sure medical buildings accommodate people with disabilities. They’ll also work to ensure that those who are deaf or have hearing loss receive information in an understandable format.
Called the Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative, the new DOJ activity includes a partnership between the department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. attorneys’ offices across the nation to ensure individuals with disabilities have equal access to health care.
The ADA was passed July 16, 1990, and provides that “[n]o individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.”
“Physicians’ offices are considered places of public accommodation,” said Julie Reed, ISMA general counsel. “Indiana law also prohibits discriminating against patients with disabilities.”
Some specific cautions
Under the ADA, medical facilities must be accessible to those with disabilities and physicians’ offices must provide auxiliary aids or services to patients who are deaf or have hearing loss. Physicians are prohibited from charging patients or patients’ insurance companies for providing auxiliary aids and services, and must incur all costs associated with the aids.
Auxiliary aids include qualified interpreters and note-takers, as well as other effective methods of communicating to individuals who have hearing impairments. Check with your medical malpractice carrier and the patient’s insurance company to see if any discounted rates are available for auxiliary aids or services.
“Failure to comply with the ADA or state discrimination laws may result in a discrimination lawsuit against you,” Reed advised.
For example, Illinois physician Steven Senica, M.D., recently entered into a settlement agreement with the DOJ following his failure to provide an interpreter for a deaf patient.
That settlement agreement included a $7,000 fine, payable to the patient, and mandated numerous other requirements, including provision of special ADA training for employees and physicians in the practice, implementation of policies on auxiliary aids and services, and maintenance of a log of all requests for aids and services.
“If an issue arises within your office, contact your medical malpractice carrier and private health care attorney for specific advice and recommendations,” said Reed. If you have further questions regarding the ADA, please contact the ISMA Legal Department at (317) 261-2060 or (800) 257-4762.