Usability, Accessibility and Telehealth need to be BFFs

A while ago there were two healthcare conferences that we attended here in Washington DC on the same day. One was the American Telehealth Association’s Fall forum and the other was The Interagency Committee on Disability Research (ICDR)’s Accessibility and Usability in Health Information Technology (HIT)

It turns out that they are happening with overlapping days and times, but at different parts of the city. We had to shuttle back and forth between them.

The ATA Fall Forum focuses on specific telemedicine topics and allows attendees to network and make lasting professional connections in a smaller-scaled environment. Tackle telemedicine, telehealth and mHealth industry issues right at the health care policy epicenter, Washington, DC.

The ICDR’s Accessibility & Usability in Health Information Technology (HIT) Event’s purpose is to advance the HIT accessibility focus from a compliance-driven paradigm toward one that is user-driven and responsive to human-centered consumer experiences and results in improved health and wellness for individual disabilities, older adults, and caregivers.

Having these two events at the same time is rather inconvenient for a User Experience consulting agency such as The Usability People because we’d really like to be in full attendance for both of these. However, seeing both of these show up on my Outlook calendar on the same week got me thinking about usability and accessibility in telehealth. The telehealth market is expected to grown at phenomenal rates in the next few years. Recent reports claim that the global telehealth market may reach $6.5 billion over the next five years at an annual growth rate of 24.2 percent. Healthcare IT is known to have usability problems, but for telehealth companies to survive they will need to fully embrace a patient/user-centered design approach with significant investment in accessibility and Section 508 compliance.

Here is one reason why: Many people will be using telehealth when they are sick. Imagine waking up with a high fever and severe head-ache and reaching for your mobile device to contact your on-line doctor. Normally you would have no problems focusing on the screen, selecting items and entering information into your device. But, this time, you have blurry vision, and limited higher-order cognitive functioning.

Section 508, and other accessibility protocols must be followed so that patients with temporary disabilities will be able to reach out to their doctor with on-line tools.

Designing telehealth tools for healthy people will not provide a satisfying user experience for those seeking virtual medical advice that are currently, or chronically disabled. Usability in Telehealth is just as important as usability in all HealthIT. Maybe we can serve to bridge the gap between these two conferences, as we try to bridge the gap between Engineering-centric designs and easy to use systems. Together we can turn Health IT into Safe Health IT