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Digital inclusion for health and social care

What we mean by digital inclusion


Definition of digital inclusion

Digital inclusion covers: 

Digital skills

Being able to use digital devices (such as computers or smart phones and the internet. This is important, but a lack of digital skills is not necessarily the only, or the biggest, barrier people face.

Connectivity

Access to the internet through broadband, wi-fi and mobile. People need the right infrastructure but that is only the start.

Accessibility

Services need to be designed to meet all users’ needs, including those dependent on assistive technology to access digital services.

Barriers to digital inclusion

Research for the UK digital strategy suggests that there are a number of important barriers, and more than one may affect individuals at any one time. 

They are:

  • access - not everyone has the ability to connect to the internet and go online
  • skills - not everyone has the ability to use the internet and online services
  • confidence - some people fear online crime, lack trust or don’t know where to start online
  • motivation - not everyone sees why using the internet could be relevant and helpful

As access, skills and confidence improve, it is increasingly important to tackle other barriers, including:

  • design - not all digital services and products are accessible and easy to use
  • awareness - not everyone is aware of digital services and products available to them
  • staff capability and capacity - not all health and care staff have the skills and knowledge to recommend digital services and products to patients and service users

Good Things Foundation has produced an informative report on motivations of non-users of the internet

People likely to be digitally excluded

There has been real progress in internet and online services.

Statistics about internet usage

  • 90% of households have internet access
  • 78% of people go online via a mobile device
  • 89% of people go online at least weekly

Use Ofcom and Office of National Statistics data to see the latest figures on internet access. 

But there are still significant levels of digital exclusion, for example:

Statistics about digital inclusion

  • 11.3m people in the UK lack the basic digital skills they need to use the internet effectively 
  • 4.8m people never go online at all

The Government Digital Service has developed a digital inclusion scale which maps individuals’ digital capability on a scale from 1 to 9, from those who don’t use the internet at all to digital experts. 

Some sections of the population are more likely to be digitally excluded than others. These are:

  • older people 
  • people in lower income groups 
  • people without a job 
  • people in social housing 
  • people with disabilities 
  • people with fewer educational qualifications excluded left school before 16
  • people living in rural areas
  • homeless people
  • people whose first language is not English

For more information on digitally excluded populations in the UK see the annual UK Consumer Digital Index from Lloyds Bank. The 2019 Consumer Digital Index shows:

  • 11.9m people (22% of the population) do not have the digital skills needed for everyday life in the UK
  • by 2030 it is predicted that 4.5m people (8% of the population) will remain digitally disengaged
  • people with a disability are 35% less likely to have essential digital skills for life

Good Things Foundation publishes an annually updated Digital Nation infographic showing who's digitally excluded in the UK and the reasons why they are not online.

Woman and man sat at table using tablet computer

Assisted digital

Digital inclusion initiatives can help users improve their digital skills so that they can use online services. However some people will still need assisted digital support such as:

  • access through alternative channels (telephone, face to face)
  • help from others to use online services

Health literacy

As health information and services are increasingly delivered digitally, the ability to use digital technologies is increasingly a form of health literacy. There is good evidence from the World Health Organization that people with lower health literacy have worse health outcomes. 

Read more about health literacy in the NHS digital service manual and in the Health Education England health literacy toolkit.

Wheelchair user and carer using computer

NHS digital health services

This guide is part of the NHS empower the person pillar of work. Other programmes include:

NHS.UK website
NHS app
NHS apps library
NHS wi-fi
Personal health records
GP online services
NHS 111 online

Users of digital health services

54% of adults in the UK looked up health information online over the past three months.

There are 40 million visits a month to the NHS.UK website. Most of these are made by smartphone (65%) with 24% by computer and 11% by tablet.

40% of adults are aware of GP online services. There has been an increase in the number of people booking appointments online (18% in 2018, up from 12% in 2017) and ordering repeat prescriptions online (17% in 2018, up from 12% in 2017).

9% of adults own a wearable, such as a fitness tracker or smartwatch.

Sources:

NHS.UK live service analytics
Ofcom adult media use and attitudes 2018
Office of National Statistics. Internet access: households and individuals 2018 
GP patients survey

Last edited: 4 July 2019 11:03 am