Feds Move To Enforce Accessibility Standards For Medical Equipment

An exam room at a clinic in Flint, Michigan. The U.S. Department of Justice seeks to make it easier for people with disabilities to access medical exam tables, scales and other diagnostic equipment. (Jake May/MLive.com/TNS)

Doctor’s offices often lack examination tables, scales, and other diagnostic equipment that are accessible to people with disabilities. Now, the US Department of Justice is trying to change that.

The agency is proposing a rule under the Americans with Disabilities Act that would adopt technical standards detailing the responsibilities hospitals and health care clinics operated by state or local governments have under the law.

The Justice Department said the proposal published this month in the Federal Register comes in response to numerous complaints from people with disabilities who have been denied basic services by health care providers due to a lack of accessible equipment.

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The complaints cited cases in which doctors failed to obtain an accurate weight before administering anesthesia, one doctor telling a patient who remained in his wheelchair throughout his annual exam that “I assume everything below the waist is fine” and a patient who was afraid to go to the doctor after being placed on a standard examination table without side rails.

“People with disabilities often experience great difficulty obtaining routine or preventive medical care because medical diagnostic equipment is inaccessible. From exam tables to scales to mammography equipment, accessibility (medical diagnostic equipment) is critical to ensuring equal access to health care,” said Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. . “This groundbreaking rule marks an important milestone in the Department of Justice’s efforts to eliminate the barriers people with disabilities face in accessing health care.”

The proposed rule would adopt accessibility standards established in 2017 by the U.S. Access Board for exam tables, chairs used for eye and dental exams, scales, mammography equipment and X-ray machines, among other items used by healthcare providers for diagnostic purposes.

The rule is proposed under Title II of the ADA, which requires that the services, programs and activities of state and local governments be accessible to people with disabilities, so the rule would apply to public hospitals, health clinics and other Entities that state and local governments contract to provide health care services.

Under the proposal, state and local government entities that provide health care would be prohibited from denying services to patients with disabilities due to a lack of accessible equipment, and such providers would be prohibited from requiring people with disabilities to bring someone to help them. help with an exam. .

The rule would require any new medical diagnostic equipment purchased by covered entities to be accessible until it meets the required accessible equipment threshold. Providers using exam tables would have to have at least one that can be accessed within two years. Similarly, if the rule is finalized, entities that use scales would need to have one accessible within two years.

Staff would need to be able to operate accessible medical equipment and assist with necessary transfers and positioning, the Justice Department said.

The proposal is ready for public comment until February 12.

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