Guidance on Nondiscrimination in Telehealth: Federal Protections to Ensure Accessibility to People with Disabilities and Limited English Proficient Persons

Telehealth is an increasingly important way of delivering health care. Many health care providers and patients have turned to telehealth during the COVID-19 public health emergency to reduce community spread of the virus, and it is now a more accepted way to provide and receive health care services.

Although telehealth has many advantages, accessing care via telehealth may present challenges for certain populations. Sometimes these challenges, if not addressed, may result in these populations facing barriers and issues accessing this care. Some examples may include:

• A person who is blind or has limited vision may find that the web-based platform their doctor uses for telehealth appointments does not support screen reader software.

• A person who is deaf and communicates with a sign language interpreter may find that the video conferencing program their provider uses does not allow an interpreter to join the appointment from a separate location.

• A limited English proficient (LEP) person may need instructions in a language other than English about how to set up a telehealth appointment.

Health care providers must make reasonable changes to their policies, practices, or procedures, which may include providing additional support to patients when needed before, during, and after a virtual visit, to avoid discriminating on the basis of disability.

Examples of reasonable modifications that may need to be provided:

• A physician’s office may need to offer additional time in advance of an appointment, to give a patient with an intellectual disability a chance to become familiar with the features of the telehealth platform. During the visit, the provider should speak directly to the patient about their care, taking additional time as needed to ensure that the person understands what is being asked. The provider should also use a platform that allows a support person to be present with the patient or log in from a third location.

• A dermatology practice that typically limits telehealth appointments to 30 minutes may need to schedule a longer appointment for a patient who needs additional time to communicate because of their disability.

• A doctor’s office that does not allow anyone but the patient to attend telehealth appointments would have to make reasonable changes to that policy to allow a person with a disability to bring a support person and/or family member to the appointment where needed to meaningfully access the health care appointment.

Check out the full resource for more information on ways to support adult learners in accessing accommodations for tele-healthcare.