We are constantly hearing that digital services are “the future”, but in actual fact we are already fully immersed in a digital life. Technology lives in our pockets, directs us round the country, gives us access to knowledge within micro seconds. We are an incredibly digitally knowledgeable species already.
Or are we? It’s easy to perceive that “everybody” has access to a computer, the internet and smart devices. Unfortunately we’re often distracted by our own access to such tools that we fail to notice that external factors such as money, education and time can have a profoundly negative effect on people’s digital literacy.
Are We All As Digitally Literate As We Appear?
Digital literacy refers to knowledge and skills with digital devices such as computers, smartphones and tablets.
16% of UK adults are classed as “functionally illiterate”, meaning they would be unable to pass a GCSE. 50% of people can’t do basic maths. These are the very basic skills most of you will have learned at an early age, and have been taught in schools for centuries. Yet 16% is an alarming proportion of the population. Imagine then that a modern skill set such as digital capabilities becoming a part of everyday life, and people having to learn them independently. Take into consideration how fast-paced and constantly-changing digital experiences are too.
Research published by the BBC has found that 21% of Britain’s population lack the basic digital skills and capabilities required to realise the benefits of the internet.
Even most people who have access to smart devices are lacking in the skills required to use them to their full potential.
Good software design should address the digital know-how of it’s potential users or else there is a high risk of limited usage of the technologies. Some of the main areas to take notice are authentication (how the user signs up and/or logging in), general user interface design, personalisation options and the clarity in the support documentation.
Digital Inclusion Strategy
The government have a digital inclusion strategy in place to ensure everyone who can be is online by 2020. They have identified 4 main kinds of challenge faced to achieving results:
- access – the ability to actually go online and connect to the internet
- skills – to be able to use the internet
- motivation – knowing the reasons why using the internet is a good thing
- trust – a fear of crime, or not knowing where to start to go online
According to the BBC Media Literacy study, 21% of people can’t use the web. 14% of people don’t have internet access at all, so 7% do have internet access but don’t use it in ways that benefit them day to day.
Addressing Digital Literacy
So how can this be combatted? There have been a number of projects and programmes that aim to address digital literacy, here are a few:
- Providing free access at public libraries
- Creating DotEveryone – the UK’s digital skills alliance designed to inspire people and organisations who want to help others build their digital capability
- The Broadband Delivery UK Programme aims to bring high speed broadband access to 95% of homes by December 2017
- Motivating users to go online by teaching them the benefits of job search software such as Universal Jobmatch, rather than simply pushing them into it
- Get Safe Online is a scheme which helps people keep themselves safe against the threat of fraud, identity theft, viruses and many other online security issues
- WEA (Workers Educational Association) are a unique adult education provider working with hundreds of organisations at local, regional and national levels. Courses include IT for Beginners, covering the use of computers, mobile devices and social media.
It’s paramount that digital healthcare providers work with adult community learning regarding digital literacy. However the challenge of usability needs to be tackled at the design stage using co-production as the process. The key to success is in the quality of the relationship between the partners in each project, and at bitjam we work in a highly collaborative manner with clients and stakeholders to research and develop innovative solutions that meet their needs.
The NHS is currently undertaking a £40 million three-year programme to bring the “Internet of Things” into healthcare. Focusing on simple yet effective solutions that can be easily adopted by the masses, digital health is set to revolutionise healthcare services for both patients and providers. “Older patients and people with long term conditions and mental health problems will be among the first to benefit from a major new drive to modernise how the NHS delivers care” – NHS England January 2016.
Here are 3 examples of existing solutions where we can learn about the benefits and potential challenges faced when scaling up these solutions.
Electronic Prescription Service
The Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) allows prescriptions to be sent direct to pharmacies through IT systems used in GP surgeries. Eventually EPS will remove the need for most paper prescriptions.
- Patients can collect repeat prescriptions directly from a pharmacy without visiting a GP
- paper prescriptions will become obsolete so can’t be misplaced
- Patients will spend less time waiting in the pharmacy
- The service is reliable, secure and confidential
- It could cause confusion as the patient isn’t given a physical prescription. In many cases the carer and patient use the paper version to easily manage medications in the home
- Less digitally able patients could find the process more stressful as they may perceive less control in the process of ordering medication
- Any issues resulting in prescription details being incorrect or not sent to the pharmacy could result in wasted trips for the patient. This could be the result of human error in the system
Appointment booking software
Patients are now able to access their medical records, book appointments and order repeat prescriptions from their electronic devices with apps such as Patient Access.
- Allows patients to access local practice services online
- Reduces the need to make phone calls to the surgery
- Repeat prescriptions can also be booked online using the same system
- Convincing patients that the service is safe is a challenge for service providers
- Not all current web services have good enough design for a good user-experience
- There are still a number of users (healthcare providers and patients) who might not have access to a computer or lack the knowledge to use the service
- Some online appointment booking services require large browsers rather than mobile or browsers on tablets
Wearable Technology for Diabetes Patients
K’Track Glucose from PKvitality is the first wearable tracker that allows diabetics to self-monitor their glucose levels without the need for cumbersome and painful blood-based tests. This sort of technology gives patients control over their condition and allows for more discreet management.
Although diabetes affects 1 in 11 people in the world, it’s reported that 80% of people on treatment do not monitor their blood sugar often enough. The K’Track Glucose is a solution designed to tackle the reasons why patients might be neglecting their health. The wearable fits in with a more modern patient routine. It’s simple to use, discreet, sports-friendly, painless and allows for easy monitoring on the go.
- Replace the current method of pen-like prick tests which are easy to forget and don’t provide newly-diagnosed patients with much information
- Wrist-band devices are less invasive than needles
- The device links easily to the patient’s smartphone so they can monitor and keep a record of their blood sugar levels
- Still in the testing stage so reliability is yet to be measured
- Inconsistent adoption of technologies from the healthcare providers. Many IoT and wearable tech produce personalised data that could prove useful in managing health however this data is rarely used in consultations.
All three of these examples demonstrate the significantly positive effect that such simple solutions can have on providing patient empowerment. The impact of patient confidence over time far outweighs the initial launch costs. Such solutions should ease the pressure on healthcare resources anyway (less hospital visits required, less time spent on unnecessary phone calls etc) which will also reduce costs. The challenge lies in changing up the current structure and format to provide ability to scale up the service, provide training and ongoing support.
Bitjam are currently working with healthcare and education providers researching and exploring ways in which technology can be deployed at scale.
It’s never been easier for patients to be more connected to healthcare solutions. Learning about disease or making a doctor’s appointment can be done at the click of a button. Cutting-edge technologies are being conjured up every day, paving the way for the future of revolutionary healthcare. Yet there’s still one huge challenge: late adopters. Those usually of an older generation – although not limited to – who are change-resistant to modern technology.
Changing a Mindset
They may dislike it, lack the time to understand it, be wary of it or simply don’t realise the benefits. Ironically these are people who could benefit the most from the assistance of healthcare technology. While ground-breaking research and dramatic ideas and inventions help the system to plan for the future, if there are still patients resisting even the most straight-forward digital solutions, growth and development will be slow.
The issue isn’t that of user experience or reliability, since the tech is relatively simple and straightforward to use. The real change needs to be made socially and culturally. Educating patients so that digital healthcare solutions become acceptable and adapted in to their routine with minimal upheaval.
To create genuine harmony between patients, providers and digital healthcare systems, emphasis needs to be on patient empowerment. Showing them how to gain the easiest access to their information without causing unnecessary stress or concern. This will be a challenge for GP’s and other healthcare providers as they will have to incorporate this extra time into the patient appointment or other method of contact. It will be the responsibility of the provider to ensure the patient leaves feeling confident.
Focusing on Adoption
Technology is fast-advancing, with some complex research being carried out that focuses on the future of healthcare technology in 10-15 years time. While this is exciting, Bitjam are equally championing the “boring” tech – so described because it’s been accessible for a number of years now and most people are already using and relying on it everyday – such as messaging and GPS. Even mobile web browsers are a vehicle for application-like experiences.
Ubiquitous technologies can be used to develop large-scale solutions that engage a wide range of users and importantly increases adoption with healthcare providers. While it’s exciting to exist on the fringes of innovation with technology it’s important that existing health tech solutions work well, are scalable and are adopted widely. The skill and innovation is understanding how to get the maximum value from these technologies and deploy them effectively.