Examining digital exclusion and workforce impacts
— Case study

Examining digital exclusion and workforce impacts

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic became the catalyst for a major shift towards the use of virtual tools designed to facilitate effective interaction between health and care professionals and patients. 

As part of the South West AHSN’s Technology Enabled Workforce Programme, we have investigated whether increased expectation of digital competence and connectedness marginalises those who lack the skills or tools to get online – further exacerbating health inequalities. Additionally, we have examined the implications of virtual consultations on the health and care workforce. 

We have published three linked reports, each examining different areas of digital exclusion.  

Our aim was to examine some localised data, which would raise questions and allow for analysis and exploration of the subject on a larger scale. 

Doctor talking with remote patient via videocall meeting conference on computer

The key findings from our three reports highlight several important areas of focus: 

  • Rurality and demographics: The rurality and isolation of the South West can cause direct problems with connectivity, and an ageing population presents difficulties of its own. 
  • Patient involvement: Extensive involvement of diverse patient groups, particularly those who do not normally engage online, is essential to developing a robust strategy for increased digital involvement. 
  • Workforce implications: An underprepared or unenthusiastic workforce will not be able to ‘sell’ digital involvement, or adequately support patients with new technology. Ensuring that digital solutions are deployed appropriately and are fully supported is key to successful optimisation of this technology.  
  • Alternatives to digital: Efforts must be made to ensure that patients have choice in their method of accessing healthcare, providing both analogue means of communication whilst encouraging those who can participate online to do so.     
  • Further research: Many opportunities for further research exist, including around staff engagement, patient needs and engagement, and which aspects of healthcare can most usefully be taken online.