Kansas Health Care Professionals Safeguard Your License: Understand Your Obligations Pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA” or “Act”) was signed into law almost 25 years ago. The Act prohibits Americans with disabilities from being discriminated against in certain circumstances.  A “disability” is defined by the Act as referring to any physical or mental impairment that markedly limits at least one major life activity. A major life activity can include, breathing, walking, speaking, learning, and hearing, just to name a few.

Title III of the ADA requires all health care providers to provide effective communication to all patients who are deaf or hard of hearing. The term “health care providers” includes not only hospitals and clinics, but also applies to private physician and dentists, regardless of the size of the practice or the number of employees each employs.

In July of 2013, the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against a Florida doctor and his medical practice for alleged violations of the ADA. According to the complaint, the doctor was the primary physician for a deaf couple for a number of years. Upon learning that the couple had filed a lawsuit against a local hospital, which was also affiliated with the doctor’s practice, the doctor terminated the couple as patients. The basis of the lawsuit against the hospital was that the hospital had allegedly failed to provide a sign language interpreter to the couple while in the emergency room. Such acts constitute discrimination and are in violation of the Act. The doctor’s actions were a violation of the ADA because, according to the language of the ADA, a person cannot be terminated as a patient for exercising his or her rights under the ADA and the doctor’s actions were in retaliation of the couple’s lawsuit.

In statements made by the doctor, he admitted to terminating the couple as patients upon learning that the couple had filed suit against the hospital. In his defense, the doctor stated that he had never had any problems communicating with the couple in his past encounters and felt that the couple was dishonest in pursuing the lawsuit against the hospital.

Health care professionals need to understand what does and does not qualify as “effective communication” since what may be considered effective communication in one situation may not be effective in another situation, even with the same patient. For example, providing written communication such as forms or information sheets may be considered effective communication with respect to learning a patient’s billing information. However, when discussing a patient’s symptoms or the physician’s diagnosis, a qualified interpreter may be necessary.

If you are a health care professional and have learned from your licensing board that a complaint has been filed against you, contact the Sanger Law Office today at today at 785-979-4353 to schedule your free and completely confidential consultation. At the Sanger Law Office we understand what your professional license means to you and will work with you to develop the best strategy to protect your livelihood. You can trust the experienced team of professionals at the Sanger Law Office to provide you with excellent legal services.