Keith talks healthcare tech and digital exclusion

Keith Nurcombe, MD for O2 Health talks about a recent discussion on the Guardian Homecare network blog regarding how best to tackle the problem of digital exclusion among those in social housing.

While the debate itself only looked glancingly at healthcare technologies, such as telecare and telehealth, the issue at the heart of the debate – how we can tackle digital exclusion amongst the elderly or those who may be living in housing trusts – is one that is incredibly pertinent to the question of how telecare can be used to best effect.

Take for example a recent report by the Strategic Society Centre (SSC) which estimated there could be as many as 4 million people who could benefit from telecare in some form. Of these 4 million potential telecare users less than 20% were identified as internet users. While internet use is not a pre-requisite for someone to benefit from telecare, it does point to an underlying issue of low IT literacy among many of those who could benefit most from new technologies.

When you consider that the 7.8 million people who are not on the internet are also the heaviest users of government and third sector services, and that two thirds of them are over 65 years old, it is not hard to see that the issue of digital inclusivity is one that will also be at the heart of bridging the gap between the demand for more efficient and cost effective care services and the solution that telecare offers.

Telecare and telehealth have been proven in trials to offer real benefits to care – reduction in emergency hospital admissions, A&E visits, elective admissions, bed days and costs – but these will not be felt if the people who can most gain from these advances are restricted from doing so by a mistrust or lack of confidence in technology.

This is where awareness becomes a key driving force. The findings of the SSC research suggested that whatever objections people may have to telecare, cost is not one of them – it is therefore vital that we help raise awareness of the value of these new technologies to allow both trusts and individuals to make an informed decision about where these technologies can be of benefit to them.

Wider adoption of technology across the healthcare system will be central to delivering clinical excellence and more efficient care and so it is essential that providers of healthcare technologies and trusts alike combine these new technologies with robust strategies to help improve digital literacy and, furthermore, that we help encourage people be open to exploring the benefits of the internet and connected technologies.