Transforming healthcare through digital inclusion

By Sarah Beard, Business Development Director at Maggie’s, Partnership Manager at Doteveryone (Secondment from April-June), and Clore Social Leadership Fellow 2015

As three quarters of the UK population go online every day, the internet touches every area of our lives, making things faster, cheaper, better.

The networked age brings incredible opportunities for healthcare. The challenge is to ensure that digital health care services are designed around the needs of the hardest to reach and least digitally skilled.

In Wales almost one in five people are digitally excluded. The majority of these people are elderly, disabled or economically inactive – in short, the most vulnerable within our society; ironically, the largest users of our health and social care services.

It’s undeniable that internet enabled technology can radically transform health care services and improve patient experiences. Technology should also help and enable clinicians to deliver more care, more effectively; and help patients and carers to spend time doing the things that really matter.

Digital health tools and services can help people:

  • Manage appointments – choosing suitable dates/times
  • Better manage their own time – e.g. ordering repeat prescriptions online
  • Monitor and manage their own health – e.g. through apps
  • Communicate more effectively with clinical teams
  • Create and engage with support networks
  • Feel more empowered

But in order for people and patients to be able to maximise the opportunities presented by digital health and social care services, they must have the necessary skills and tools.

Fundamentally, unless digital inclusion across Wales improves, individuals, families and communities through the Principality will not benefit from the significant opportunities that digital health services present to improving health outcomes and patient experiences.

At Maggie’s, we are passionate about enabling people to feel as empowered as possible in their own health care and clinical decision-making. Increasingly, it is becoming more evident that those who are digitally included are becoming ever more empowered – using apps to record appointments, monitor their own health and even track their own emotions. Those who are digitally skilled are also gaining huge amounts of information and knowledge from the internet and support from online groups.

The Services team at Doteveryone is working to highlight how technology can improve the quality of life for elderly people who have life limiting conditions, and are at the final stages of life. Amongst other projects, the team is developing and testing new ways in which elderly people at end of life can be better connected – to reduce isolation and loneliness by finding and connecting people with others.

We are all responsible for ensuring that everyone, including the most vulnerable people that our services are designed to support, are given the opportunity to learn the necessary digital skills and get access to the appropriate tools.

Charitable organisations like Maggie’s, Health Boards, Social Services and initiatives such as Digital Communities Wales must continue to work collaboratively (and in conjunction with the private sector) to tackle digital exclusion in years ahead – to ensure no one is left behind.

The Wales Co-operative Centre has been working to address issues of digital exclusion in Wales for over 11 years now. Working with Welsh Government the Wales Co-operative Centre has delivered three major initiatives: Communities@One, Communities 2.0 and now Digital Communities Wales. The work has made a significant contribution to addressing the digital divide in Wales, but there is plenty more to be done, as more and more services and interactions are moving into an online space.

Ahead of Get Online Week 2016  (17 -23 October), the Wales Co-operative Centre has  invited a wide range of contributors to write a guest blog on Everyone’s Business blog site in an effort to highlight the on going need for organisations across Wales to work together to address issues of digital inclusion.

 

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