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Digital health and care – A project from Healthwatch Suffolk

A summary of findings from Healthwatch Suffolk project about digital health and care:

This project – In brief

Throughout the year 2020/21, people shared their experiences of using digital NHS and social care services with us. The aim has been to:

  • Develop the best possible understanding about people’s experiences of using health and care services, including things that might have prevented them from accessing digital care (digital exclusion).
  • To gather people’s thoughts on how things need to be different in the future to avoid inequality and to make sure everyone can access the care and support they need.

By seeking this feedback, our NHS and social care services have learned more about the digital approaches that have worked well for people. We have also determined areas where services could do more to ensure that everyone is empowered to find the help and support they need.

Key findings

Completed in two phases, this research has been comprehensive. Opinions and experiences were recorded in surveys, online workshops, guided telephone conversations, digital toolkits and as a part of our engagement with local services and Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) organisations.

We’ve included some of the highlights on this page, but you’ll find much more detail within our full research report (including many quotes about people’s experiences and also a summary of the research completed by Healthwatch Essex). Download it now.

Broadly, people have liked having quicker access to health advice and the reduced need for travel, including the associated savings on parking or public transport. Digital services have also enabled people to continue to access care safely during the pandemic, something particularly valued by those who had been shielding.

However, digital care has not benefitted everybody. Some experienced poorer physical and mental health outcomes because care had been provided remotely (including misdiagnosis), others had been disadvantaged because services were not accessible (such as for those with specific communication needs), and some felt their relative or friend had lost independence due to a new reliance on others helping them to access services. 

Here’s a quick summary about some of the things people thought were good, and not so good, about using digital NHS and social care services (based on findings from our surveys with patients, carers and professionals).

What was good?

  • Speed, both in terms of ability to access services quickly and promptness of response.
  • Service capacity is increased so that more people can be seen.
  • Reduced need for travel, and associated worries about parking and parking costs.
  • Convenience, and the fact that services could be accessed in a place and at a time that suited the individual.
  • Digital services had enabled people to receive care safely during the pandemic.
  • A few people said using digital services had positively improved their sense of control and empowerment in discussions about their care

What could be better?

  • Lack of confidence, IT skills and equipment were identified as key reasons for digital exclusion.
  • Some highlighted that the uncertainty of not knowing when a GP would call back was unhelpful.
  • People wanted more user-friendly systems that are easier to navigate. Some highlighted specific aspects of services that could be improved like having the ability to skip irrelevant questions.
  • Some people said digital care had led to poorer outcomes (e.g. because of a misdiagnosis).
  • A number of individuals highlighted that phone and video consultations are simply inappropriate for some health conditions.

You can download the full report by clicking here: https://healthwatchsuffolk.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Digital-Health-and-Care-Final-Copy.pdf

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