Accessible Medical Diagnostic Equipment

Designing and specifying equipment for medical facilities – physicians’ offices, clinics, emergency rooms, hospitals, and other medical settings – can be complicated. The pace of technological innovation in diagnosis and treatment certainly presents a challenge, as does complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

While the ADA requires medical facilities that serve the public to provide equivalent service to all people, including those with disabilities, there are no uniform, enforceable standards that stipulate technical specifications for accessible diagnostic equipment.

Based on public and industry input, the U.S. Access Board in 2017 issued a ruling with minimum technical criteria in its standards for medical diagnostic equipment (MDE Standards). The advisory standards, with or without modifications, will become mandatory when adopted by an enforcing authority, such as the Department of Justice or another federal agency. In the meantime, providers and suppliers have to rely on the nonobligatory guidelines when specifying or manufacturing accessible equipment.

U.S. Access Board MDE Standards cover a range of equipment – such as examination tables and chairs, weight scales, radiological and mammography equipment, stretchers – and consider the following conditions:

  • The way in which patients use the equipment, e.g. lying down, sitting in a wheelchair, standing;
  • The way information about device controls is communicated, e.g. audible, visible, tactile.

The intent is clear: To provide equipment that can be used independently by all patients, including those with disabilities. But application of the guidelines can be complex. Understanding the technical guidelines and interpreting their application is one way LCM helps healthcare providers comply with the ADA.

Here are some of the issues we have observed in our accessibility consulting work:

Older standard exam tables or chairs, and diagnostic equipment such as bone densitometers, typically have not adjusted to a transfer height manageable by a person in a wheelchair. The 2017 MDE Guidelines for Standards identify adjustability to multiple transfer heights between 17” and 25” above the floor to allow for dignified independent transfer. To provide equivalent access in these situations, a lift (ceiling mounted or mobile) must be employed by qualified and trained staff.

As medical facilities purchase new equipment, at least one of every accessible type should be included. While there are no required percentages yet established, we advise our healthcare clients to plan to achieve at least 10 percent accessible equipment, consistent with other requirements.

 

This post was written by Robert Zimmerman

 

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