Health Care Providers and Compliance with the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines disability “as a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The act provides protection for individuals with disabilities as well as people who are perceived as having a disability. Under the law, major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing, breathing, caring for oneself, standing, lifting and learning.

There are certain aspects of the ADA that are important for health care professionals to note:

  • Employment practices: The ADA only affects employment practices of businesses with 15 or more employees. For businesses that fall within that scope, the ADA prohibits discrimination against employees or job applicants who can perform the essential functions of their job either without aid or with a reasonable accommodation.
  • Place of public accommodation: Even medical practices with less than 15 employees are subject to the ADA. Under the law, doctors’ offices are considered public accommodations, and therefore, must comply with accessibility requirements for patients with disabilities.
  • Accessibility: Physicians’ offices must ensure that individuals with disabilities can use the office building. Barriers to access must be removed if modifications are “readily achievable.” Whether a modification like the installation of a ramp is “readily achievable” depends on a number of factors, such as the effect of the modification on the operation of the business, the cost and nature of the improvement, and the financial resources of the owner.
  • Sign language interpreters: Whether a physician is required to provide an interpreter for a deaf patient depends on the complexity of the patient’s issues. For simple medical problems, patients and health care providers may be able to communicate effectively through handwritten notes. If the matter is more complex, a physician may be obligated to pay for an interpreter, unless it can be shown that this would be an undue burden on the physician. If the cost of an interpreter exceeds what the physician charges for the patient’s care, it does not necessarily constitute an undue burden. The financial resources of both parties, as well as the consequences the cost has on the practice, are taken into account.

For questions regarding legal compliance with health care regulations, as well as other regulations that affect your business, consult an experienced health care compliance attorney who can help you develop and implement an effective compliance program.

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