Office building code changes: What physicians should know

June 10, 2019

As of April 1, 2019, the province of Alberta has changed its building code to improve the accessibility of doctors’ offices for people with physical and auditory disabilities. The changes to National Building Code-2019 Alberta Edition make it easier for people with disabilities to enter the doctor's office and exam area, but also make examining a patient - especially a person with a physical disability - more appropriate for both patient and doctor.

What will these changes look like?

Examples of the changes include increased width for entrance doors to accommodate mobility devices such as electric wheelchairs and electric scooters, and assistive listening devices for people with auditory impairments.

At least one examining room must be large enough to accommodate the turning radius required by a person seated in a wheelchair and allow for transfer to an examining table. Furniture is generally not required by the building code, but the appendix note for this new subsection recommends that a hydraulic plinth be provided in the accessible examining room. Hydraulic plinths are of ergonomic benefit to the physician in conducting an examination in that they can be adjusted to the optimal height.

Who will these changes affect?

These building code changes will affect physicians who will be constructing new buildings to house their offices and examining rooms. Substantial renovations that affect a building's structure or footprint will also be within scope for these new requirements.

A six-month transition period will be in effect to allow building designers the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the new requirements. The end of the transition period is September 30, 2019. Building permit applications after this time will need to comply with the updated building code.

Why have these changes come into effect?

Up to this point, there has been no direction in the building code to specifically cover the accessibility of physicians’ offices. In this age of inclusiveness it is hoped that Alberta physicians will see the benefit of this change which allows all patients to see and be examined by a physician despite their personal circumstances.

Where can I find more information?

The details of the new changes are in subsection 3.8.5. of the building code and more information can be found online. The National Building Code-2019 Alberta Edition is available for free to download from the National Research Council Canada products web page. To access, begin by clicking Construction Publications (top left), then Provincial Construction Codes, then National Building Code 2019 - Alberta Edition, NBC(AE). When the page loads, scroll to the product type list and select the second option for the free PDF download.

For questions and further information about accessibility within physician offices, please contact:

Dr. John Latter
Professor Emeritus
Department of Clinical Neuroscience and Pediatrics
Cumming School of Medicine
University of Calgary

Mr. Patrick Sweet
Safety Codes Officer
Calgary Building Services
The City of Calgary

The AMA advances patient-centered, quality care by advocating for and supporting physician leadership and wellness.