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Researchers describe ways to improve health care experiences for people who are blind or have low vision

Nearly 10 million U.S. residents are blind or have low vision. Focus groups with visually-impaired individuals reveal that they routinely confront communication, physical access, and information barriers to care, as well as a lack of basic respect. These patients are bothered that some physicians think they cannot participate fully in their own care. They often find it difficult to interact with physicians and office staff, and they sometimes have trouble getting to and around physicians' offices.

Visually impaired individuals typically receive information in inaccessible formats, for example, not in Braille, large print, or audiotape. Using common courtesy and individualized communication techniques, physicians and office staff could improve the health care experiences of blind and low-vision patients, concludes Cornell University researcher Bonnie O'Day and her colleague Lisa I. Iezzoni, M.D., M.Sc., from the Harvard Medical School. Dr. O'Day and her colleagues used focus group interviews to elicit information and advice from people with vision loss about how to improve their health care experience. The 2-hour audiotaped focus groups involved 19 men and women from diverse backgrounds; 10 had no vision, and 9 had some vision.

Focus group participants recommended that doctors talk to them instead of their sighted companion and focus on their medical complaint rather than their blindness. They also suggested that office staff be trained to respect patients' preferences for navigating offices and assist them with paperwork in private locations instead of in waiting rooms where their privacy may be compromised. Other suggestions included installing Braille and raised-print signage on office doors, having information about public transportation routes available in the office, and telephoning patients about future appointments. The study was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS10223).

See "Improving health care experiences of persons who are blind or have low vision: Suggestions from focus groups," by Bonnie L. O'Day, Ph.D., Mary Killeen, M.A., and Dr. Iezzoni, in the September 2004 American Journal of Medical Quality 19(5), pp. 193-200.

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