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Digital tools help improve access to healthcare for patients with hearing and sight loss

People with sensory impairments in West Yorkshire and Harrogate have been given the knowledge to use digital health tools to make visiting the GP easier.

More than 750 people benefitted from a project to support improvements in accessing health and wellbeing services for people with hearing and sight loss.

The project was part of NHS Digital’s Widening Digital Participation Programme, which aims to make digital health services and information accessible to everyone – particularly the most excluded people in society.

Across the country, 20 digital inclusion pathfinders are being run in partnership with the charity Good Things Foundation to test new ways of helping people access digital tools to improve their health.

This project - run by Leeds-based mHabitat – was designed to find out more about the challenges faced by people with hearing and sight loss in making and attending GP appointments.

Over 50 people joined workshops to talk about their experiences of using primary care and a small group also did walk-throughs of visits to a GP practice to show first-hand the barriers they encountered.

Problems included difficulties booking GP appointments, accessing buildings and waiting areas, communicating during consultations and reading information leaflets or letters.

To help overcome some of these, the project team looked into the most effective apps and assistive technologies, such as:

  • Online appointment booking
  • Communication technology such electronic note-takers, tools which convert speech to text or text to speech
  • An app which turns a mobile phone into a hearing aid
  • Apps using Artificial Intelligence

Thanks to the research, a list of useful apps and technology has been created for GPs and other organisations to help them support patients with hearing and sight loss. The project also recruited 44 Digital Champions to share this information, including charities, service users and NHS organisations within the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership.

Nicola Gill, WDP Programme Director at NHS Digital, said: ‘This pathfinder has successfully shown how day-to-day technology can help overcome some of the challenges faced by people with hearing and visual impairments when they visit their GP.

“It has highlighted some valuable learning points, such as focusing on digital inclusion, listening to and working with patients and encouraging GPs to recognise that patients with disabilities may need additional support.

“We are pleased to have learned so much from this project and hope that GPs and other health practitioners across the country will adopt this model of digital inclusion to support their patients with visual and hearing impairments.”

Molly Watt, an Accessibility Consultant who worked with the pathfinder team, said: “Being involved with this project gave me an insight into life on the other side of the NHS.

“It was my pleasure to share my thoughts with staff who were so keen to interact and make changes for the better. Projects like this really help to improve accessibility, inclusivity and user satisfaction.”

Helen Milner, Chief Executive of Good Things Foundation, said: “Digital tools are vital in ensuring everyone can access the services they need - and this Pathfinder project has shown just how important that can be. We hope these findings can have a real impact on how primary care is delivered, to ensure everyone can access the health information and support they need.”

Notes to editors

  1. NHS Digital’s three-year Widening Digital Participation programme (WDP) aims to help thousands of people across the UK to boost their digital health skills, as one in 10 people in England lack the confidence and skills to fully benefit from digital, and in turn from the improvements to their health. The programme is focusing on those who are socially excluded and so are most likely to suffer from health inequalities.
  2. The pathfinders are partnerships between local organisations including Clinical Commissioning Groups, local authorities and community groups in areas of high deprivation and digital exclusion. The evidence and insights gathered through these pilot projects have been developed into practical ‘How to Guides’ that can be shared with digital teams in the NHS and across Government to ensure all digital health services and tools are inclusive and accessible to everyone – particularly the most excluded.
  3. Good Things Foundation is a social change charity, helping people to improve their lives through digital. Through more than 5,000 Online Centres in communities across the UK, Good Things Foundation helps people gain the support and skills they need to change their lives for the better. Good Things Foundation believes that everyone in the UK should have the confidence, skills, support and access to use digital technology, participate in society and benefit from the digital world.
  4. mHabitat is an NHS-hosted organisation which supports people-centred digital innovation in health and care. It works with patients, citizens, providers and commissioners of health and care services, digital innovators and health tech companies, academic organisations, and national bodies such as NHS England and NHS Digital. mHabitat runs digital innovation and inclusion projects, programmes and accelerators, as well as advising on procurement, policy and strategy.
  5. West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership is made up of NHS, voluntary and community sector organisations.
  6. Molly Watt is a speaker, usability and accessibility consultant, specialising in assistive technology and design for those with sensory impairment. She set up the Molly Watt Trust to raise awareness of Usher Syndrome, a rare condition which affects hearing and sight. The charity also fundraises for assistive technology to support people with the condition.

NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner of the health and care system.  Our team of information analysis, technology and project management experts create, deliver and manage the crucial digital systems, services, products and standards upon which health and care professionals depend.  During the 2018/19 financial year, NHS Digital published 265 statistical reports. Our vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better.

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Channel website: https://digital.nhs.uk

Original article link: https://digital.nhs.uk/news-and-events/latest-news/widening-digital-participation1

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