Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Better Dental Office Scheduling, minus lawyers?

The following is the next in a series of RantWoman is not a lawyer but ... reflections.

The gist of RantWoman's rant:

--RantWoman is not used to thinking of needing a lawyer for help in scheduling a dental office appointment. RantWoman regrets that in reality this sometimes is a starry-eyed naïve hopelessly optimistic view.

--RantWoman is glad that a young blind friend reports he was able finally to schedule a needed dental appointment despite travails in the realm of software and staff interactions. RantWoman hopes her suggestion about using the phrase "reasonable accommodations" was helpful.

--A dental office receptionist could probably use some refreshers about reasonable accommodations, especially when software does not work.

--RantWoman would probably suggest that someone at a dental office contact their software vendor. Was the software tested for accessibility? Was it tested automatically or by humans? RantWoman tends to think that testing for accessibility is part of due diligence in buying software. Unfortunately RantWoman has also been through software evaluation processes where the best that can happen is a vendor promise to address the problem in the next upgrade / release. In that case, staff needs training about using alternate methods for people who cannot use the purchased software.

--RantWoman has no opinion at the moment about whether lawyers might be inserted into following up on the moment that evoked these reflections.

The longer version:
RantWoman has from time to time flirted with the idea of going to law school. This idea appeals to RantWoman in terms of interesting work, in terms of wanting to argue on the side of angels. One thing that consistently deters RantWoman: competition. The US has more lawyers per capita than any other industrialized nation AND has social problems that can constructively be addressed by technology, design, and other skillsets in addition to legal argument.

Take dental appointments. Contrary to the direction of an exchange yesterday on Facebook, one should NOT need a lawyer to make a dental appointment. Nor, despite the ravages of the current administration, should mention of the ADA be interpreted as a threat rather than a regular norm of doing business.

Yesterday a young blind friend of RantWoman's posted on Facebook from the midst of the kind of dental pain that gets one referred to oral surgery for an extraction. The referral included a reference to an online appointment scheduling process.

Young blind friend is plenty computer literate enough to post to Facebook. He has both computer skills and a Smartphone. RantWoman has no information about which pathway he used to try to schedule an his appointment online but he reported that the process was completely inaccessible using the tools he had.

Here we digress for both a software design and testing point and a RantWoman legal analysis point:

First, the technological analysis: there are now widely understood standards and developer tools  to help software developers create web sites and apps that are accessible to a variety of users. Developers who use these tools develop awarenss of the issues they are intended to address and skills to incorporate accessibility measures into their products.

This world is not perfect and mistakes or gaps in testing happen as with everything else about software. But if developers never design and test for accessibility it will never happen. That means that a blind person needing to schedule an appointment in WA will face the same problems as someone using the same software somewhere else.

RantWoman has pointedly not solicited enough information to know whether the problem is something that can be fixed in a software update or whether it is a fundamental design problem; this is something RantWoman would encourage the dental office in question to speak to their software vendor about. RantWoman suggests that talking to the software vendor is a better use of resources than immediately running to a lawyer.  RantWoman also notes that not everyone who needs oral surgery will be able to use the online package AND RantWoman thinks a dental office receptionist ought to be able to recognize that sometimes patients will need assistance, that iit is her job to provide that assistance, and that it is not reasonable to expect people to bring someone to help them with the dental office scheduling. If RantWoman were any kind of a competent capitalist, she might package up this advice and go into training about this topic. Stay tuned?

--Now the RantWoman legal analysis offered with the caveat that rantWoman is not a lawyer and PERHAPS should ask a lawyer to refine her argument. Whether or not the ADA applies to services over the internet is a topic engaging the minds and passions of many lawyers. From a practical to RantWoman perspective, dental offices are commonly accepted as public accommodations so if one is going to us online tools as part of operating a public accommodation, then the online tools need to be accessible to people expected to use them. So readers are invited to return to  the software development and customer support points above.

Back to yesterday's exchange. Young blind friend asked the receptionist for help scheduling the appointment. From the account on Facebook RantWoman cannot tell whether the receptionist lacked training or was just having a terrible horrible no good very bad day. The exchange did not go well. The version on Facebook included suggestions that sound to RantWoman like blind people, deaf people, and people who speak languages other than English just go elsewhere for dental care.

This point of view is problematic if one's dental practice expects to get paid by Medicare or Medicaid, both federal programs that come with requirements to comply with the ADA and with federal civil rights laws. But it is also problematic if one wants to rely on software probably used by many dental offices to get one's work done.

No, being blind does not magically protect one from dental calamaties. Nor does being deaf. Nor does having a first language other than English. But in all of these cases, better software, better staff training and  customer service skills can add a lot more value more quickly than lawyers!

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