This week has seen the launch of a report on the Tinder Foundation and NHS England ‘Widening Digital Participation’ project. The project outcomes include health related behaviour changes and increasing confidence as a result of training individuals in using online health resources. The report also describes the project activities and shares its learning on successful approaches to engaging hard to reach and at risk populations.
11 million people in the UK lack basic digital skills and 6.7 million have never been online before. There is a huge synergy between groups that are digitally excluded, and those who experience health inequalities. As the shift towards ‘digital by default’ services becomes more widespread throughout health services within the UK there is a danger that the inequalities in health already felt by these groups may become more pronounced.
The Tinder Foundation works with 5,000 UK online centres network and hundreds of national partners to ensure people do not become digitally excluded through a lack of digital skills. The UK online centres network is made up of a broad range of different types of organisation, from community centres to churches and arts groups to job clubs. The network’s diversity makes them ideally placed to reach and engage with a huge variety of people, including many of the hardest-to-reach in society, who are also those most often affected by health inequalities.
The Tinder Foundation project identified that engaging groups that are at risk of health inequalities and helping them to become digitally included has the potential for impact on multiple fronts. First, steering patients towards digital alternatives to traditional face-to-face contact with health services, where appropriate, has the potential to dramatically reduce costs for the NHS. Second, being digitally included enables individuals to seek out information to help them better manage their own health and wellbeing. And third, digital inclusion efforts also address broader social determinants of health such as social inclusion and employment, by potentially reducing loneliness and isolation, and developing skills to enable participation in the workforce.
In year 1 of this project 59,755 people we trained to use online health resources, 100,752 people were reached with digital health messages, and 1,893 volunteers were trained to introduce people to online health resources. 82% of learners reached by the project were ‘socially excluded’.
76% of people trained felt more confident about using online tools to manage their health, and the project found that these skills also helped people feel more confident, and reduced social isolation. Booking GP appointments and ordering repeat prescriptionsonline, and finding and rating local services, was met with enthusiasm by many users who were not previously aware of or skilled to undertake these online health transactions.
There was evidence that improvements in health literacy translated into behaviour change, with 44% of flagships and centres in the Digital Health Network reporting improved health behaviours – such as better diet and increased physical activity – amongst their learners as a result of learning about online health resources. 59% of centres that hosted health events reported that people attending their events went on to improve their health behaviours.
The project found mobile technologies such as tablets created opportunities to engage with older people and hard-to-reach populations. Working with committed, enthusiastic partners in the health and community sectors is identified in the report as a powerful way to maximise reach and engage with communities, and events provided new opportunities to engage people.
The full project evaluation can be accessed here.