Digital inclusion matters to health and social care organisations:
- it’s crucial to achieving priorities
- they have an obligation to reduce inequalities
- there are clear policy commitments
- there’s a strong benefits case
How digital inclusion can support health and social care priorities
Supporting people to get online and use digital health resources can be crucial to achieving local priorities including:
- physical and mental wellbeing
- self care
- shared care and shared decision making
- long term condition management
- appropriate use of urgent and emergency care
In these videos, healthcare and digital leaders talk about the importance of digital to local service transformation, and why digital inclusion is important so that nobody is left behind.
Digital inclusion: improving access - Rob Webster, Chief Executive, South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Trust talks about how digital inclusion is making a real difference to mental health service users.
Digital inclusion: social prescribing - Sir Sam Everington, GP and Chair of Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group, talks about social prescribing at the Bromley-by-Bow Centre.
Digital inclusion: long-term conditions - Dr Ruth Chambers, GP and Clinical Telehealth Lead at Stoke-on-Trent Clinical Commissioning Group, talks about how local clinical commissioning groups are taking on board digital inclusion.
A digital NHS for everyone – Martha Lane Fox, Executive Chair, Doteveryone, talks about key steps to digital inclusion including developing staff digital skills, focusing on the furthest first, and free wi-fi throughout the NHS.
Digital inclusion and health inequalities
The NHS long term plan makes a commitment to a more concerted and systematic approach to reducing health inequalities and addressing unwarranted variation in care. In today’s society, digital exclusion can be seen as a form of inequality. There is a close correlation between digital exclusion and social disadvantages including lower income, lower levels of education, and poor housing. Health inequalities should be addressed in the local plans being developed in response to the national Long Term Plan.
In an increasingly digital world, people who are digitally excluded are at risk of worse access to services and worse health outcomes. People who have characteristics that are protected under the Equality Act 2010 (age, disability, race) are less likely to have access to the internet, and the skills to use it. Health and care organisations should take this into account when carrying out Equality Impact Assessments (EqIAs).
Important commitments to digital inclusion have been made in recent policies, including:
“People will be empowered, and their experience of health and care will be transformed, by the ability to access, manage and contribute to digital tools, information and services. We will ensure these technologies work for everyone, from the most digitally literate to the most technology averse, and reflect the needs of people trying to stay healthy as well as those with complex conditions”.
“Different people may need different services and some people will never use digital services themselves directly but will benefit from others using digital services and freeing resources to help them. We must acknowledge that those with the greatest health needs are also the most at risk of being left behind and build digital services with this in mind, ensuring the highest levels of accessibility wherever possible”.
“The NHS is founded on a commitment to the principles of equal and equitable access to healthcare for all UK citizens. Yet use of digital healthcare technologies could undermine these principles by exacerbating inequalities, unless consideration is given to how they affect equality and equity, including the risk that vulnerable groups might be excluded or exploited”.
Benefits of digital health
When considering the business case, there is increasing evidence of the benefits of digital health.
The benefits to patients and carers include:
- improved self-care for minor ailments
- improved self-management of long-term conditions
- improved take-up of digital health tools and services
- time saved through accessing services digitally
- cost saved through accessing services digitally
- reduced loneliness and isolation
And benefits for the health and care system, including:
- lower cost of delivering services digitally
- more appropriate use of services, including primary care and urgent care
- better patient adherence to medicines and treatments
Those who are digitally excluded risk missing out on the benefits to individuals of digital health. And the health and care system will not save money and transform services unless it engages with the one in five of their population who are not online or have digital skills – and are the heaviest users of health and care.