Quality Healthcare for Any Age: 5 Tips to Improve Digital Healthcare Accessibility

Thought Leadership

By Christina Ung | August 24, 2022
Illustration of elderly woman using her phone to access digital health.

Your older loved one calls, frustrated and out of patience after struggling to set up a health app their doctor recommended. Featuring complicated questions in small light gray text and requiring an up-to-date smartphone, this app designed to make it easy to connect to an HCP is anything but. After an hour of working together, your loved one has finally installed the app and created an account. “Well, that was frustrating,” they say. “Now that I have it on my phone, would you help me understand how to actually use this?” 

The pandemic has resulted in a larger cohort of users aged 65+ engaging with health tools online. And that can be a great thing — accessing digital health services can decrease inpatient utilization and ER visits, especially for older adults. But many people who age experience changes, including how they can move, their sight, and their memory.

And with more than 46% of older people living with some type of disability, many run into barriers accessing digital healthcare that doesn’t consider their user needs. So how can we ensure older people — including our loved ones — can connect to and benefit from digital health services?

“What matters to you?”

We need to meet people where they are and design for them. That means mapping out a plan that considers everyone’s needs from the beginning and asking the question “what matters to you?” We call this human-centered design, which is a tried-and-true tested route for creating a better and more accessible user experience. 

As it turns out, designing for different user needs can create unexpected huge value. Disability rights lawyer and design thinker Elise Roy shares that text messaging was originally designed for people who are deaf. Designing for a visually impaired person will also deliver value to someone who drives with GPS voice prompts. Creating accessible technology is better for everyone.

The best products come from a place where people think deeply about inclusivity. But failing to build user needs into your digital health service has consequences. Inaccessible digital health services risk excluding a growing user segment who will take their time and money elsewhere. In many countries, failing to meet accessibility criteria is also against the law

5 tips to improve digital healthcare accessibility

Improving accessibility is a continual improvement process and it takes time. Currently at version 2.2, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) has 13 guidelines organized around four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. These evolving criteria will help improve digital accessibility to a wider range of people with disabilities. 

Knowing that accessibility is an ongoing and essential practice, here are five ways we can help you improve digital accessibility for your clients and customers:

  1. Be humble. Most people work in healthcare to help people, which includes co-designing a care plan that builds in patient needs. Do you know what older people need to access and engage with your digital health service? We make it a practice to be open: to ask questions, listen and continually adapt to what your users want and need.

  2. Practice inclusive design. Instead of designing a healthcare service and then figuring out how it might work for older people, try a different approach. We build accessibility into your design from the start. 

  3. Create a source of truth. From UX and development to quality assurance, many disciplines can advance accessibility. Our practice of creating a source of truth document clarifies who does what to improve accessibility, identifies gaps, and ensures that team members are on the same page.

  4. Test your product with a variety of users. Ask users of different ages and abilities to get accurate feedback — including those who use assistive technology. We have collaborated with the accessibility company Fable, who finds people who use assistive technology to do testing, including with screen magnifications, in multiple browsers, with voiceover and more. There is no better way to test the accessibility of your digital health service than to ask a variety of users.

  5. Practice continual (quality) improvement. Use feedback you receive from user testing to constantly improve your process. Be curious and explore what is accessible, what isn’t (e.g. virtual reality), and any alternate ways to approach it. We regularly build in user feedback to refine and improve our team’s source of truth document. 

Let’s advance accessible digital healthcare 

Just like anyone, older people deserve to access and engage with digital health services. Improving accessibility may seem daunting, but it’s essential to creating a digital healthcare experience that supports users of any age — and benefits everyone. 

If you don’t know where to start or you would like to continue to improve the accessibility of your digital healthcare experience, reach out to us at hello@applydigital.com. We offer multiple options to support your accessibility journey, whether you’re just getting started or you’d like to continue to level up. Let’s work together to improve digital health accessibility for everyone.

Co-Written by Sasha Speranzini