Ever increasing parts of our lives are now run through our computers, tablets and smartphones. From shopping to banking, from keeping in touch to getting directions there is very little you can’t do through your phone these days.
One part of our lives in Wales that has been largely immune to the ‘world in your hand approach’ is how we access and support our health and care. This is not to say that there aren’t huge numbers of digital tools helping clinicians across Wales support their patients, whether that’s a nurse on a ward recording their notes or a consultant ordering a test or a GP making a referral.
All this is about to change as we develop the first big citizen facing digital applications that will enable people, over time, to access increasing parts of their care digitally. Later this year the first stages of the NHS Wales App will be rolled out and over the next couple of years significant steps will be taken along the pathway to a fully digital prescribing system in the community and hospitals.
At the heart of these rapid developments is the potential for an unintended consequence that we must do all we can to avoid – as we improve access to and quality of care for many through digital applications we make it worse for some. Very likely it will be those who already experience disadvantage and inequity in their lives.
The reasons why the experience of some could be much poorer than others are many and varied and, indeed, will be different in some way for every individual. It could be that they can’t afford a smart phone or don’t have the connectivity where they live, they may not have a home, their frailty or disability may mean they can not use a smartphone or, perhaps, their illness is the barrier.
Equity is all about putting in place the things that are needed to ensure that all, and that means all, benefit from change or removing the barriers that deny some the benefit.
Working with and through the voluntary sector in Wales will be a very important part of how we ensure equity of experience as we roll out these new citizen facing digital tools. They understand the communities they have worked with over many years. Most importantly they have the trust of those ‘communities’ whether they are brought together by geography, circumstance or characteristic.
We need to listen to people right across Wales and hear how a new digital relationship with their health and care can work for them. The answer may well not be in the App itself, it could be in the support that goes round the individual to enable them to use the new digital tools. Equally the answer is not in our sole gift it will only be secured working with many others in finding and delivering the answer.
The summit we are organising in September with our partners, the Wales Council for Voluntary Action and Cwmpas, is an important part of the recognition that together we can go a long way to ensuring that the exclusion unintended consequence is avoided through putting inclusion at the heart of digital transformation.
For more information about the Digital Summit, please contact us.