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To ‘go digital’ won’t health and social care need digital to go public first?

January 18, 2017

‘digital’ probably can make a substantial contribution to our society, at this moment I’m thinking of the contribution it can make to solving some of the problems that are currently pouring into the health and social care system…

I’ve been thinking about this wildly over-used phrase “going digital” more and more recently and all the things that’ll have to happen to make it work for the average person.

At the moment ‘going digital’ actually means you going self-service through your own personally paid-for device and learning how to use it and all the online and App based services on it.

But for the sake of the average person I think we all must take a step back and think and plan a lot more around how people get to benefit from digital infrastructure in the first place. There are so many things to learn on how the public can generally benefit from the new digital infrastructure by thinking about the last 50 years and how the public ended up benefitting from the national road infrastructure.

Digital is today’s big new thing as was the road network 50 years ago. Like roads, what digital can do for you depends on the kit you can afford to use the network and the knowledge you have about the layout. Yes people can use the roads to get about by walking or on a low cost bicycle, but the range of things individuals can achieve using the road network on no or low cost kit is radically different to what can be achieved using motorised kit. Added to that, the more resource an individual has to invest in their motorised kit (fuel, navigation, in-car comms) directly expands the possibilities available to them.

Like motor cars, smartphones and computers are privately financed and you have to learn how to use them yourself. You pay the connection and maintenance costs, then you can benefit from ‘going digital’. But so many people, like with the motor car, can’t afford them, or can’t afford much, can’t utilise it to the best extent and end up moving around only small parts of the digital network. People who are sick or have temporary or long term impairments or disabilities face extra layers of barriers preventing full and free access to the devices and consequently the range of services and information on the digital networks. Unlike the road network which as a surface is pretty standard across the board, what’s on ‘digital’ is very very diverse.

I think what hasn’t been solved or addressed with digital, that had to be addressed in the road networks is this:

– The road system stopped becoming the natural answer to society’s problems as more and more people used it.

– Inefficiencies crowded in, costs and inequalities rapidly rose to address them, alternatives began to look more attractive as the century drew to a close.

– A public way to get around without having to buy, use and maintain a personal motor vehicle was the next stage (public transport and, in some ways, the internet and remote working!)

So far I don’t think the idea of public transport really exists in any coherent way in the digital realm. Everything is still very much aligned with private ownership of the digital equivalent of the motor car which is the smartphone or personal computer and the necessity to learn to use them.

I think for health and social care services to work in the digital realm, there has to be the equivalent of public transport for everyone who can’t benefit from a privately owned device or is too sick or impaired to fully benefit from these devices which are essentially “self-service” something that becomes harder when you cannot do things for yourself owing to a health or social care problem.

What will ‘public digital’ be? Where is it evolving? What are the signs that something is happening to facilitate the sections of our society that are on the other side of the ‘digital divide?

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