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Going digital: What it’s like for less tech savvy communities to use healthcare services

Rahel Gerezgiher, Health Innovation Network Communications Project Support Officer, writes about what it’s like for less tech savvy communities to use healthcare services.

More and more we hear about the move into digital; not only within the NHS, but also in commercial sectors. Although there are many positives that come with moving into a more digital realm, such as having a wider reach, easier and more streamlined use of services, we also need to be aware of the downsides, which could potentially alienate members of the public who regularly use health services.

Case Study

My mother’s first language is not English; she is currently in college trying to improve on her speaking skills as she finds it easier to understand but struggles with responding. My mother is able to use her smartphone for the basics such as making and receiving calls, messages, using Viber to call abroad and WhatsApp. She also has arthritis and Type 2 diabetes, which require regular trips to her GP.

If the NHS brings digital technology into every aspect of healthcare, I believe my mother would struggle to get to grips with this new technology. She is not the most tech savvy, but there is also another challenge – English is not her first language. I’m sure that this would be a concern for others, including those who may be intimidated by technology.

Some points to consider:

  • As we move into digital healthcare, it could be useful to have training opportunities in primary care settings for patients to learn how to use digital systems, such as classes on ‘How to book an appointment’ or ‘How can I check my results?’
  • Without such training opportunities, which would show people how to use the new system, this could put pressure on family members and friends to help their less tech-savvy relatives.
  • The move into digital could result in more easily accessible materials, and a wider selection of translated materials would be a positive benefit. I am fluent in Tigrinya and so is my mother, but at present we rarely come across materials translated into our language. This is something to be considered going forward.

Those who are not tech savvy will not be the only group of individuals who will not be keen on moving into the digital realm. There will be some groups who prefer not to use technology and still prefer face-to-face interaction. By increasing the reliance on digital, are we pushing these groups up against the wall?

This group may not only prefer face-to- face communication, but they could also be worried that their information may be easily accessible. How do we reassure this group that their information is safe, and could they have the choice to opt out if they preferred?

I think that the move into digital is imperative for the NHS, as there are a number of opportunities that can come from it. However, if the move will not be utilised by all groups we really need to put provisions in place for this to ensure that we are catering to all groups, such as running training sessions or still having a main point of contact in primary settings, so that we are giving people the option to use the service, which is more in line with their wants and needs. After all, the NHS is there for everyone, so it’s only right that there is tailored accessibility for all.