No Patient Left Behind: How to Create an Inclusive Practice
Unlike some privately-owned businesses, healthcare is not meant to be an exclusive club. There are always opportunities to go the extra mile to provide healthcare for those who struggle to access it regularly. There are many disabled, allergic or elderly patients that cannot receive their preferred healthcare because it has not been made accessible to them. If you’re looking to be more inclusive, SmileMakers has a few ways you can make your practice inviting to everyone.
Most modern practices do prioritize making their practice wheelchair accessible. Even if your practice falls outside ADA guidelines, you will miss out on a large base of patients if you’re not currently accommodating wheelchairs. According to the World Health Organization, 20% of the population has some form of disability. If you’re starting a scratch practice or simply looking for ways to improve your accessibility to patients that cannot walk of their own accord, here are three simple methods to create a wheelchair-friendly practice:
- Ensure that your practice entrance is accessible by ramp, elevator, or lowered platform.
- Acquire adjustable seats and equipment.
- Have disability-friendly bathrooms.
While wheelchair accessibility is a good step, it does not cover every disability. Over time, you may encounter patients with hearing, visual or intellectual disabilities. The best way to support a special needs patient is to know their disability beforehand and prepare accordingly. This is not possible for every patient though, so here are ways to be prepared for all patients in advance:
Hearing Disabilities: In the past, the greatest obstruction to healthcare for patients with poor hearing was booking over the phone. To accommodate hearing impaired patients, have a few methods to contact your practice, preferably with a website or email. It’s also useful for them to have some reading material for their procedures, as verbal explanations may not be as effective for these patients. This information can be made available online or with pamphlets in your practice. During the procedure, it may be useful to develop and use hand signals that will explain the different aspects of your process to the patient.
Visual Disabilities: For patients who are visually impaired, it is often best to walk them through whatever treatment they are receiving. This will help them understand what to expect and prepare themselves for any unusual sensations they may not otherwise expect. If you are comfortable, you can even allow them to hold and feel the equipment, so that they have a better understanding of what will be used for the treatment. Any strange or alarming sounds should be noted beforehand to ensure that you’re on the same page with the procedure.
Intellectual Disabilities: Due to the range of intellectual disabilities, it is difficult to suggest a cohesive strategy to help them adjust. It’s best to just be patient and clear in your explanation. It may be best to allow a family member in the operating room with you to help them feel safe and explain your treatment in a way the patient will understand. Contact is often difficult for these patients so be sure to inform them gently where your equipment will touch them and how it will feel. Depending on the severity of the treatment, sedation may be the best option to keep them calm.
Disabilities from Allergies
It may surprise you, but according to the ADA, allergies and asthma are considered a disability, too. This is because they can impede ‘major life activities’ like eating and working. Many people with allergies are forced to avoid common day-to-day activities that could put them in contact with an allergen. To accommodate these patients, it’s important to make your practice allergen-free.
One of the most common allergies in the medical industry is latex. Latex gloves, instruments, and even rubber bands can cause patients to have an allergic reaction. What’s even more concerning is that a latex allergy can develop over time with increased exposure, so some of your patients may be at risk without being aware of their situation.
The best way to avoid this problem is by eliminating latex from your inventory. There are now many options for different types of latex-free practice equipment, and you can find bandages that no longer use the material either. At SmileMakers, our stickers are Manufacturer Certified Hypoallergenic and Latex Free. You can order all your necessary pediatric rewards supplies knowing that it can accommodate all your young patients.
Stickers are not the only products we offer that are certified allergen-free. Our healthy candy and gum, made with all natural xylitol, is perfect for all patients. Many of our candy options, like Dr. John’s lollipops, are free any traces of peanuts, dairy, or soy. You can offer these treats to your patient knowing that they won’t have to worry about any negative side effects.
Looking for More Ways to be Accommodating? Consider Redoing Your Waiting Room!
While your waiting room might not be your highest priority, patients and their family members spend a fair amount of time waiting and sprucing up your decor to make it more patient-friendly will decrease anxiety and make patients feel more at ease. Try including SmileMakers furniture or toys & games to help create a positive, friendly waiting room.