What is Digital Inclusion?

NHS Somerset’s Digital Team has been working on digital inclusion as one of our priorities

Digital inclusion

“Digital inclusion” is not just about helping people to develop skills and confidence to use computers or internet-based modes of communication.  It also means telephone, text messaging and other forms of contact such as the use of Apps.

While digitisation has long been on the agenda for our team, the coronavirus crisis has made it more important than ever.  The government has previously identified four key barriers to digital inclusion:

  • Access – not everyone has the ability to connect to the internet
  • 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

We know that digital and telephone appointments don’t work for everyone. Sometimes personal circumstances make people more vulnerable to digital exclusion; sometimes digital appointments can be suitable at one stage in a person’s care but not another.  These things must be taken into account when making decisions about when patients or service users might require flexibility.

There are eight factors which make people particularly likely to experience digital exclusion.  These are not in any order of importance or prevalence.  Some people may lack digital inclusion due to several of them:

  • Poverty – people with low or no incomes are less likely to have devices, Wi-Fi or data
  • Age – according to government research, older people are less likely to want or have the skills to access digital healthcare
  • Literacy & communication preferences – a lack of English language or literacy skills can be a barrier
  • Skills & motivation – includes a general preference for face-to-face contact and a demotivating belief that seeing someone via a screen isn’t “really seeing” them
  • Precarious lifestyles – people living in extremely precarious circumstances may only have devices for short periods of time because they may be quickly sold on or stolen.  They may not be able to charge devices regularly
  • Privacy – some people don’t have the privacy they need to contact health services by phone or digitally.  This has been even more the case during lockdown; the potential safeguarding implications of this must be considered
  • Disability & specific conditions – disabilities can make it impossible to use technology without assistance (for example for people with reduced mobility in their hands, people with dementia and, in the case of some platforms, hearing or sight impairments)
  • Trust in IT – some people do not trust IT systems to work or that their data will be handled securely

Health and social care staff’s own digital skills and confidence are vital to the success of online services. They need to feel able both to use technology safely and effectively and support their patients or service users to do the same.

The way staff talk about digital options to their patients is extremely important. For example, if staff present a telephone appointment as a second-best option, it is more likely to be experienced that way by patients.


What are we doing to improve Digital Inclusion in Somerset?

NHS Somerset’s Digital Team has been working on digital inclusion as one of our priorities as requested by the Governing Body in September 2020.  This builds on work across the digital portfolio, with factors for inclusion considered and liaison with ICB colleagues to ensure links being made to relevant forums and community groups.

We are involved in initiatives to support inclusion. We are pleased to work with Spark iT, from the voluntary sector, who provide support to anyone in Somerset who wants to access the internet but cannot currently get online. They do this by operating and supporting Digital Cafés and other drop-in services in key towns across the county.  CLICK HERE to find a service near you.

The Digital Team support the population to use the NHS App and promote engagement at GP events across Somerset.

These projects are sponsored by Allison Nation, Associate Director of Digital Strategy and are being promoted across all areas of the county, noting a need to focus specifically on the West Somerset community.

As part of the Digital Team development and closely working with teams in primary care, we continue to develop our ‘joining the DOTs’ approach. Following a successful pilot, we now have permanent Digital Outreach Team (DOT) members working with PCNs and CQC Registered Social Care Homes. Their focus is on digital transformation, supporting digital skills, access and improving links between health and care organisations.

Click on the buttons below to find out more about our Digital Inclusion projects.