“Telehealth also referred to as telemedicine is the provision of health care services through ‘the use of electronic information and telecommunication technologies.’ In other words, a person can have access to his or her medical provider over a long distance by using software on a personal computer or a smart tablet.”
The Benefits of Telehealth for Patients with Low Vision
Patients who are blind or who have low vision have one major benefit by using telehealth for their medical and healthcare needs: no transportation is needed to see their doctor.
The following are two examples of real patients with blindness or low vision who have benefited from this new medical service that has rapidly accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- “I think using Zoom for telemedicine appointments is one of the positives. It connects you to your medical provider without having to worry about transportation and what that entails. Also, CMS has recently changed their regulations to allow telehealth visits, at least through this health crisis.” Source
- “I have been using Zoom since last year, but my usage has really ramped up with the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a great tool for those of us in the blind and visually impaired community because we can easily connect with each other without the stresses of transportation.” Source
The Disadvantages of Telehealth (telemedicine) for Patients with Low Vision
Alleviating the need for transportation for patients who have low vision is a nice benefit of telehealth and telemedicine but unfortunately, the disadvantages of telehealth may outweigh the benefits for many patients.
The following four issues make telehealth challenging for people who are blind or who have low vision:
- High-Speed Internet or Wi-Fi: This is necessary in order to use a computer or tablet for telehealth appointments. Smartphones will not typically be an option as the screens are too small for a patient with low vision. Oftentimes individuals with disabilities fall into lower-income populations and don’t always have access to the internet. These types of patients are the ones who could benefit the most from telehealth options.
- Current Technological Devices: Many of the most vulnerable populations that could benefit from telehealth don’t own computers or are not competent using the technology that is required to take advantage of telehealth visits. “Many older adults with limited financial resources also may not be able to afford devices or the associated internet service fees. (Half of seniors living alone and 23% of those in two-person households are unable to afford basic necessities).” Source
- Poor Accessibility: Not all telehealth software programs are created in a way that is accessible to patients who need to utilize screen readers, magnification, or high contrast software. The programs must be built with accessibility in mind otherwise patients will not be able to take advantage of telehealth technology.
- Elderly Patients with Low Vision: Elderly patients are often not adept at using technology and older individuals with low vision have difficulties interfacing with digital devices. “Large numbers of seniors are unable to participate [in telehealth]. Among them are older adults with impaired vision (13.5% of those 65 and older) who can have a hard time using digital devices and programs designed without their needs in mind. (Think small icons, difficult-to-read typefaces, inadequate captioning among the hurdles).” Source
The Future of Telehealth and Telemedicine
Advances in technology have the possibility to expand telehealth to people with disabilities, increasing accessibility to healthcare to these vulnerable populations. However, if these new technologies and software programs aren’t accessible to persons with blindness or low vision then it can end up further alienating those who are already at a higher risk of not receiving the same quality of care as patients without disabilities.
Telemedicine and Telehealth have the potential to improve accessibility to medical and mental healthcare for patients with disabilities but only if the systems and programs are built with accessibility in mind.
“Because telemedicine has the potential to forever alter how health care is provided, inaccessible telemedicine software may actually diminish the level of health care available to people with disabilities.” Source
More Awareness Around Handicap Accessibility
Raising the awareness around accessibility in technology is the solution. Without this awareness, vulnerable populations will be excluded from taking advantage of a benefit that eliminates issues with transportation, eliminates the isolation that often accompanies the elderly, and offers more frequent access to medical providers to those who need it most.
T-Base specializes in making websites and healthcare materials accessible to persons with low vision. As the baby boomers age, the number of individuals with low vision and health issues related to aging increases. T-Base believes in inclusivity and empowering persons with low vision with the tools they need to have access to all the advances in technology that users without disabilities have. Contact T-Base to learn more.