The real public health challenge – digital inequality

If you look in most newspapers you’d be forgiven for thinking that the biggest threat to public health comes from obesity or smoking or alcohol. These are things with easy images, and an optional feeling of superiority for those who do not consider themselves obese/smoker/drunkard.

What is less visible is the fact that digital inequality has just as big an impact on health.

At EAHIL 2016 (@eahil2016 #eahil2016) I attended a talk by Bob Gann – “combating digital health inequality: libraries on the front line“. It’s not often a talk gives me so many “gasp” moments – the statistics are really shocking:

  • while 7o% of Europeans use the internet weekly, 20% have never used it in their lives – that’s 1 in 5 Europeans have never used the internet in their lives

When I think of my lifestyle, and indeed my 80 year old mother’s life style, I have real pause for thought – how do they get anything done?? 

  • 47% of Europeans with insufficient digital skills to make best use of websites, but if you focus on the socially disadvantaged, this rises to 64%

So exactly the people who need the most help are least likely to have it – the poor, those with low literacy, disabled, homeless, older people, those with chronic or mental health problems.

  • Women are less likely to be online than men – to the tune of 200 million fewer

When you consider who is most likely to be caring for the old, sick, young, etc – this gender gap is particularly shocking to me.

The worst part of it is, when you hear politicians bang on about everyone getting fast broadband by 2020, but then closing/reducing funding for/making skilled staff redudant from the very places that could give those with least access at least some access right now (public libraries, if you hadn’t already guessed..)

This is why Widening Digital Participation in partnership with The Tinder Foundation is so vital.

For every £1 spent on helping a digitally excluded person gain skills to navigate the online world, using programmes like LearnMyWay, they can save the NHS £6. And this is just the easy things they can count like avoided GP appointments. The impact that it can have on increasing self-confidence, their ability to manage their own health conditions, reducing social exclusion, empowering them means the £6 figure is likely to be a gross under estimate. Plus the costs saved are unlikely to match the value given.

What I found particularly interesting is that it’s not just the excluded population that needs help.

Bob raised the fact that health care professionals need help in changing their attitudes and approach. The gate keeper role that practice managers, reception staff etc have is a very powerful one – controlling who has access to the doctor or nurse. Whether consciously or unconsciously, they might be less likely to give a “difficult” person as much access.

This is where support from people like Martha Lane Fox and her doteveryone is being particularly supportive, with a specific set of Digital Recommendations for the NHS (love MLF).

There is also an increased need for “social prescribing“, is a means of enabling primary. care services to refer patients with social, emotional. or practical needs to a range of local, non-clinical. services, often provided by the voluntary and. community sector.

This can/could/should include suggestions of what websites or online support groups etc could be useful, and a contact to a source of support in accessing these resources (you can tell that probably means a public library, can’t you?).

We all need to be more engaged with this – as health librarians supporting public librarians (I know there’s a lot of this out there already) – as as just because we (ok, I) need to be more socially aware.

Reading (if nothing else!!) – read about Ron

Ron – a true story

Reading – Year 1&2 Findings Report from The Tinder Foundation.





One Response to The real public health challenge – digital inequality

  1. […] The real public health challenge – digital inequality […]

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