COVID has caused accessibility improvements that physical therapists have been calling for for years…
Accessibility is something that is readily spoken about in Physical Therapy, but not as much in the community at large. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was established in 1990, and sets regulations for what accommodations must be provided. However, many in the community would argue that although the ADA is a step in the right direction, there is still much to be done. If anything, COVID has highlighted the need for better accessibility, but also, that with technology, there are a lot of accommodations that can be provided, and that should be more widespread.
Until COVID, telehealth visits in physical therapy were not allowed in the state of Florida. But since COVID, there were measures put into place to allow for telehealth visits for physical therapy. COVID has also lead to more people becoming familiar with video technology, all of which can be of benefit to the disability community, whether it better helps the deaf community, those with mobility limitations, and those that may need appointments to have something looked at, but cannot make a quick trip to the doctors due to other medical complications. Furthermore, for some, it has led to better access to certain specialists via telehealth that may have been nearly impossible before due to distance and insurance. Finally, telehealth has allowed for people to have their prescriptions filled, instead of having to make an office visit, which decreases scheduling difficulties for those seeing multiple practitioners.
Other advances include measures being put into place by businesses for expanded accessibility and delivery options: Stores delivering groceries, or having curbside pick up, and restaurants providing more options and online menus to better serve customers. Furthermore, many businesses have transitioned to using expanded online payment options. Another large change involves doorways and spacing. To cut back on germ transmission, some businesses have their doors propped open which can help with mobility limited patients. Additionally, due to social distancing, closely packed tables have been better spaced out, which helps for better navigation for those utilizing wheelchairs for mobility, or other assistive devices.
Just as changes have been made to make products more accessible, there have also been changes to improve public safety. Many companies have changed out their cloth surfaces to surfaces that are easier to clean, and are cleaning more frequently to keep down the transmission of germs. Overall, the world that we interact on has become cleaner as a result, as businesses prioritize customer safety. Along with improving general hygiene and cleanliness, the supply chain for distributing cleaning products and priority items have been better streamlined, and these products put into stockpiles and storage in case there are issues in the future. Although there is still room for improvement for transporting and storing medical equipment where it can be easily disseminated to those who need it most, the process has streamlined, and is continuously improving.
An unforeseen consequence of COVID has been the deterioration of mental health broadly. But with the prevalence of mental health difficulties, access to this care has also become easier. For some, telehealth is a viable option, and for others, there are apps to schedule private sessions with professionals to get the help needed. Additionally, as we recognize some of these consequences, the need for improved care, and acceptance of mental health care has also improved. Although there is still a stigma for individuals who use mental health services, this is improving over time.
Finally, COVID has highlighted some of the health conditions that are prevalent in society, and has led to a greater focus on individual health. For many, it has brought awareness to the potential dangers of some diseases, and the importance of doing everything you can to keep yourself healthy to avoid such problems in the future. For others, it has led to an increased interest being placed on wellness and fitness. Whether attending a physical gym, designing your own home gym, or participating in online health and wellness programs, many have turned to fitness as a way to help with mental stressors, as well as a way to better prepare for their own futures. Overall, the access to fitness and wellness programs has become more widespread, which helps everyone, but especially those with limited access.
Although 2020 has been a difficult year for all of us, there have been some changes that have improved our overall health and wellbeing. In the future, we can continue to improve telehealth visits to increase access to care. Although not all states have provisions for telehealth, it has become more apparent that change is needed. As telehealth services become more prominent, we may also see state and professional compacts grow. Currently nursing has one of the more extensive compacts, where transferring, and using your license to practice in other states in the compact is a relatively easy process. In the future, we may see more states and professions such as MDs, Physical therapy, etc, join these compacts, and make practicing and transferring licenses easier, which in turn increases accessibility to providers.