Developing Accessible and Inclusive Healthcare Software

Going to the doctor isn’t something we do for fun. A persistent ache or a peculiar symptom is the only reason why we do it. In that situation, the last thing we need is a buggy appointment booking system. Add to it an interface that only serves to generate stress, and the picture is complete. It’s more than enough to make anyone fly off the handle.

The end result is only too evident. Missed appointments, overall inefficiency of the healthcare system, and even diminished quality of patient care. For anyone living with a disability, an inaccessible interface can pose an even bigger challenge.

The World Health Organization reports that over 1.3 billion people in the world experience some form of physical or mental disability. Mobility issues, loss of sight, learning difficulties – the list of people that can be left out by inaccessible software is practically endless. The obvious question is – how can you create truly accessible and inclusive healthcare software?

The need for empathy and understanding


Since this is an article about purely technical matters, it may seem odd to mention empathy. Still, we have to remember that healthcare wouldn’t exist without it. Helping others thrive is at the core of medicine’s credo. This is something you’ll have to keep returning to if you are to design accessible and inclusive healthcare software.

The main goal is to build systems that can serve the people – not the other way around. You ought to grasp what the end user needs and what challenges they’re facing, and use that as your starting point.

Start by gathering a group of people in your target audience and ask them as many questions as you can think of. Ask – and listen. This initial phase isn’t about coming up with quick answers. It’s about providing efficient, long-term solutions. Get to know the people your product will be serving. Learn how to assume their perspective and truly understand their needs. Include them in the testing process every step of the way.

A diverse team for a diverse audience

The need for feedback will likely make you turn toward nonprofit organizations and patient groups. They’re a great place to start if you want to include as many opinions and perspectives as possible. However, there’s another thing closer to home you ought to consider.

Yes, this is about your team. The more diverse it is, the more different points of view you’ll be able to include in the mix. No one wants an engineering (nor indeed any other kind of) echo chamber. Each member can and will bring their unique experience to the drawing board. Learn to take advantage of that.

Preparing for failure


Obviously, everyone wants their solution to be successful. Making it infallible is, however, not possible. After all, you intend to create software for those with diverse challenges – from mobility issues to sight loss and manic depression.

What happens when a system fails to meet someone’s needs? Will you simply give the users an error message and let them fend for themselves? Of course not. The key is to prepare for failure. Expect it. Ask yourself – what’s next? What’s the alternate solution you’ll offer if the website crashes or the app glitches? Think of a reset button or a customer service line they can dial – or a more novel solution.

In addition, you’ll also need to consider the human factor, namely bias and discrimination. After all, St. Catherine University and Stonewall report that as many as one in seven LGBTQ+ individuals avoid seeking healthcare for fear of discrimination from the medical staff. Building inclusive healthcare software that always offers an alternative route respecting privacy is paramount.

Implementing the changes

In order to effectively implement any large change, institutions must look inwards. Conducting an honest assessment of accessibility requires established organizations to be self-critical. Reviewing current practices and defining core issues should come before setting targets so that the latter can be realistic.

Another obstacle to implementation is funding. Dedicated investment in accessibility is usually a massive undertaking. Government-backed organizations such as the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) can more easily buffer costs than smaller, privately-run hospitals. There are no quick solutions, no point in cutting corners. Creating inclusive healthcare software is essential for building a foundation for the future.

The process doesn’t only include creating the digital framework but also teaching the staff to use it. Developers ought to provide healthcare professionals with comprehensive resources and training options. Only then can you expect to reap the rewards of improved workflow.

Embedding the improvements

It’s somewhat pointless to introduce a new system, only to do a total overhaul two years down the line. When it comes to accessible software, you have to think ahead. This is not a temporary fad or mere box-ticking. It’s a necessary change that will allow patients and their families more equal access to healthcare. Think of it as building a strong foundation for future achievements.

If designed right, it can even become self-improving with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). The World Health Organization regularly issues relevant guidelines on how to keep moving in the right direction.

The benefits of accessible and inclusive healthcare software


The goal is to continuously reap the numerous benefits that increased accessibility brings. These range from decreased stress among staff and patients to avoiding the risk of litigation. Imagine the money you can save due to fewer lawsuits.

Other benefits include not alienating staff, patients, and stakeholders –  all while improving workflow, saving time, and helping patients. By offering easier access to different services, companies can set themselves up for success. In the long run, everyone benefits from inclusive physical and mental health services.

About Luisa Dorsey