What we say

Digital health: designing-out inequalities for greater inclusion

Polly Beaumont

April 8, 2021

From mobile apps and wearables to the use of digital biomarkers and web-based solutions, the Digital Health World Congress 2021 provided CHC with much food for thought. The global event rejoiced in the bringing together of different views and innovations, and as a junior account executive new to the industry, it was a fantastic way to learn about digital health in just 48 hours!

While co-design and patient centricity are far from new to the industry, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about all the ways in which digital health innovators, from the high street to the global stage, are harnessing the power of co-design to further enhance healthcare solutions through digitalisation.

Many speakers emphasised that we will only get to a place where everyone can benefit from digital health if we can effectively address the challenge of digital inclusion. This can, and should, take many forms. Emma Stone, Director of Design, Research & Communications at Good Things Foundation drew our attention to the value of community digital health hubs. These refer to physical premises, often temporary, which pop-up in different local areas to tackle the issue of building digital literacy and confidence. Members of the public can go to these welcoming spaces to seek advice on trusted online health services or be shown how to access health-related peer support online.

These facilities do not just provide access and support to the online world. They also improve connectedness within real, local communities to help build confidence and skills that are shareable. In my view, this seemed like a practical way to ‘design-out’ inequalities for those who may not have the access, skills and confidence to engage with digital health services.

The benefits of co-design also extend beyond just patients, though. Liz Ashall-Payne is the Founding CEO at ORCHA, the world’s leading, independent digital health evaluation and distribution organisation. Ashall-Payne is an expert in safe digital health adoption, and spoke about challenging the assumption that clinicians possess the level of digital literacy required to guide patients to trusted resources or recommend digital health solutions, such as apps.

According to ORCHA’s research, there are about 3,000 mental health apps currently in existence, and this number is growing at rapid-fire pace. So, if HCPs are not made aware of these services or do not have the digital literacy required to navigate them, how can they effectively leverage these solutions, both for them and their patients?

By involving HCPs in the design of these digital health solutions or indicating solutions that are NHS-approved, this will not only help upskill those being left behind, but also ensure the solutions can be recommended.

My takeaway learning from the congress was that we must avoid making assumptions when it comes to digital literacy. To be truly inclusive, digital health must allow all to voice their concerns and educational needs to ensure no one is left behind.