The journey so far towards inclusive and accessible online healthcare

17th August 2022

During 2021, the AHSN NENC identified a need to bring together people from across all sectors into a Digital Inclusion Forum to explore digital inclusion, the challenges to overcome and identify good practice opportunities that could be shared across the region.

In this blog, Forum Chair Anya Bonner from Collective Impact Agency, tells the story of the forum so far.

Digital technology is changing the way health and care services are delivered. New apps and online programmes are emerging faster than most can keep up with them and services are increasingly being offered online. The COVID-19 pandemic radically accelerated the spread of digital health solutions such as remote monitoring and online appointments. Yet, widening inequalities is widely cited as a risk of delivering more care digitally. A significant proportion of people are currently digitally excluded, meaning they are unable to engage in digital care. Furthermore, people who are digitally excluded are more likely to be socially disadvantaged and already experience health inequality. So, exploring how to ensure digital inclusion is at the forefront of digital transformation and digitalisation is essential for providing health and care services equitably and working to reduce health inequalities.

In October 2021 – January 2022, the AHSN NENC held a series of digital inclusion events, alongside the Better ConNEcted campaign, aiming to identify issues and challenges across the North East. The first of the three sessions highlighted the need for people in the sector to have a chance to discuss and explore issues and their potential solutions with each other. There was an obvious need for sharing what we learn and throwing new ideas around. This led to the creation of the Digital Inclusion Forum.

The purpose of the Forum is for health and care workers, practitioners and policy makers to sit alongside members of the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Sector and explore how to address digital inclusion issues in the North East head on, together. It is still early days in our venture together but, in our initial stages, we have identified 6 buckets to focus on, acknowledging that they all link together:

  1. Developing skills and services to deliver new services
  2. Good practice and lessons learnt
  3. Securing and allocating resource to support each other
  4. Shaping policy with lived experience
  5. Helping people prioritise services – right place and right time
  6. Myth-busting

The Forum is a collective space. We make decisions together and we accept that we often don’t have the answers and need to seek out creative solutions. This means we are often navigating a complex series of systems and systemic issues – that is never simple! We usually meet once every two months, and the gatherings currently take place online. We make sure there is a guest speaker at each event to help guide the conversation and inspire the forum members to think about creative solutions. But there is plenty of space for discussion, exploration and planning for action too.

At our last digital inclusion forum in May 2022, focused around digital skills, we created a small branch off working group who are about to meet to explore how the forum can influence the upskilling of our own organisations and the wider community to improve access to services and information.

The next digital inclusion forum is on Monday 19th September 2022, 13:30-15:00. Its focus is accessibility in digital services. We will be joined by Difference North East and Inclusion North who will explore accessibility as an essential element of digital transformation and healthcare.

If you would like to join the AHSN NENC Digital Inclusion Forum and attend the next gathering in September, you can register here.