Background to the research
During the Covid-19 outbreak, Healthwatch Hertfordshire carried out three online surveys to better understand the public experiences of mental health, shielding and health and social care services more generally. To ensure that we also heard from those who do not have access to, or do not feel competent using the internet we carried out an additional piece of work to speak to those who have been digitally excluded during the pandemic.
What is digital exclusion?
Digital exclusion is the inability to access or use online products or services, which can result from multiple factors such as affordability, accessibility, lack of confidence, skills and trust.
We conducted six one to one in depth interviews with people across the county, and found:
The main barrier to digital inclusion was the cost of devices and the mistrust of online platforms, particularly social media and online banking:
“When I hear what people are paying monthly, I mean, that’s put me off, but I would think it would be a no-go for a lot of people”
“I’m nervous to do anything financial on it because of the several experiences of friends who’ve had people who’ve gone on to their computer and done all sorts of things.”
Other barriers such as physical ability and/or skills were noted:
“My orthopaedic surgeon and my GP recommended me to avoid computers, so I tried to avoid computers.”
Sharing Patient Experience
People shared their experiences of missed healthcare appointments, and increased feelings of isolation and loneliness during the Covid-19 pandemic:
“I normally just go ring up or go in there and they give me an appointment, but I don’t know what the procedure is now so I haven’t bothered going.”
“It’s wrong really, but for someone who is registered disabled I still had a life, and I feel as an older person…it’s cut my social life and my retirement into little pieces and I really have to force myself to do anything.”
People were frustrated that most of the information about Covid-19 could only be found online.
“Everything is go to WWW… phone numbers are not given, so you can’t even phone anybody.”
“It’s annoying when you can’t find answers to some of your questions and if you want to communicate with people and all they ever give you is a website”
Some, but not all participants were motivated to become digitally included, seeing it as a way to increase their independence, help them access more information, and keep them in contact with friends and family.
“It would help greatly if I could learn how to [get online] and I could do it by myself… I would do if I could”
“I don’t want to do things like online banking, but I’d quite like to Google”
“All my friends they’re on WhatsApp and all these sorts of things”
Healthwatch Hertfordshire will use the six case studies to inform future work and will share the findings with health and social care services in Hertfordshire so that digital inclusion initiatives can learn from the experiences expressed in our report.