Digital equity: mitigating digital health exclusion and incorporating digital inclusion to improve health and care services

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Digital technologies are changing the ways in which health and social care are accessed and provided. However, as we’ve learnt from the use of digital technologies during the Covid-19 pandemic, digitally enabled care works better for some than others. The use of digital technologies (both software and devices) in health and care is expected to continue to increase in terms of both quantity of tools available to facilitate access to and provision of health and social care and time spent delivering services using digital tools. However, digitally enabled care won’t meet everyone’s needs equally, and there’s a real risk that the increased use of digital technologies will make care experiences and outcomes worse for some people (or communities). Of particular concern is that digital technologies could create additional barriers that prevent people from accessing the care they need, potentially widening existing inequalities. 

When digitalising pathways it essential to understand the factors that contribute to exclusion and inclusion and how digital technologies can have an impact on inequalities. Providing digital options alongside physical care can potentially widen inclusion, but this requires an understanding of the unique aspects of digital technologies that contribute to this improvement.   

Applying this knowledge could create digitally enabled services that match community capabilities and needs alongside traditional models of care, improving people’s experiences of care and outcomes. 

Survey

Please complete our short (5 min) survey to share your experience on how digital can make  health and care more inclusive or how you are mitigating digital exclusion. 

Complete the survey

What are we doing?

We are undertaking a research project that aims to improve knowledge of the unique ways technology can exclude but also include people and communities.  

We will work with people and communities to understand their experiences of physical and digital care, as well as their hopes and concerns for the future of digitally enabled health and care. Using these perspectives and experiences, we will create an overview of relevant digital technologies, how they may benefit patients, and how they may exclude.  

Why are we doing this?

Digital technologies are neither inherently good or inherently bad, however if implemented without engaging with citizens and a good understanding of the factors for successful use of technologies, then there is increased risk of negative experiences and outcomes. The project insight will aim to support the development of digital transformation plans that address population needs and capabilities by taking advantage of the benefits of digital technologies while minimising exclusion.  

Impact

This work aims to support developing integrated care systems (ICSs) – specifically digital leads and inequality leads – to develop a greater understanding of the long-term challenge from the potential impact of digital technologies on care experiences, outcomes and inequalities. The findings will support leaders to plan a digital strategy that facilitates the use of digital technologies to enhance patient care and consider the needs of different communities. 

Why now?

The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent default reliance on technology has catapulted digital technologies into the spotlight demonstrating net benefit for some and net detriment for others. Neither digital nor physical care are perfect, instead both need to be provided in a way that improves patient experiences and outcomes. As outlined in the ICS design framework policy paper, ICSs will be developing digital infrastructure and plans for their health and care system. It is essential that these plans maximise the benefit technologies bring while mitigating the risk of increasing inequalities

How to get involved

Please complete our short (5 min) survey to share your experience on how digital can make  health and care more inclusive or how you are mitigating digital exclusion.  

 

There are also a number of other ways you can be involved. We: 

  • have an advisory group of patients and the public to help develop the project 
  • will interview patients and the public to hear their stories on how digital has improved how they access and receive care where they may previously have felt excluded. 
  • are holding workshops with NHS and social care staff involved in digital transformation of services 
  • will share how staff in health, social care and local government are mitigating digital exclusion. 

Please contact us if you’d like to get involved in these.  

Project team

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Pritesh Mistry

Fellow, Digital Technologies

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Joni Jabbal

Researcher