Delivering health care to the digitally excluded

We talk to Dave Horsfield, programme delivery director at More Independent Liverpool (MIL) about how digital technology is being used to increase older citizens’ independence.

We talk to Dave Horsfield, programme delivery director at More Independent Liverpool (MIL) about how digital technology is being used to increase older citizens’ independence.

What is MIL?
More Independent is a Government-funded initiative that is being piloted across four UK regions. MIL, led by NHS Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group, is an innovative partnership of public, care and private sector organisations including Liverpool City Council (LCC). Founded in early 2013, the partnership is able to run and be effective on a local level thanks to help from Delivering Assisted Lifestyles At Scale, a programme run by the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board.

Mi offers a wide range of ways to increase independence, some of which are aimed at those with health needs. But it is also suitable for people who are looking ahead, and planning the next stage of their lives.

What is the problem that MIL is attempting to address?
Around 7 million British adults are currently excluded from accessing the internet. This is a hugely significant number, particularly when we think about how many recent healthcare innovations, both in treatment and processes, have been in the digital sphere. Recently the need for greater internet access among those currently digitally excluded was highlighted by a survey from UK charity Digital Unite. It found that more than four in five (86%) people aged over 55 found internet access improved their lives. Similarly, 72 per cent of people said that being online had helped reduce feelings of isolation, and 81 per cent said using the internet made them feel part of modern society. By connecting to the internet, people are plugging in to a wider world of health, care and wellbeing which has the ability to improve their lives and the lives of their carers, as well as reducing the overall burden on the local authority’s stretched resources.

What technology does MIL use?
MIL uses technologies, gadgets and digital services such as care technology, which include clever sensors linked to a helpline and easy-to-use household gadgets such as a fingerprint lock,  talking microwave and one cup kettle.  These technologies can help improve health and wellbeing,   allowing people become more independent. MIL also uses health technology that works alongside an existing TV.  Health technology allows people with long term conditions such as COPD or heart failure to monitor their health at home with the support of health professionals. Health Technology can help to spot deterioration of a person’s condition, reduce emergency admissions and give peace of mind to people and their families.

In fact, the programme has just reached the point where GPs can prescribe assistive technology – a real move towards integration of health, care and wellbeing services.

How is Liverpool City Council contributing to the partnership?
One of most important initiatives that MIL, LCC and TUC Union are working on is the recruitment and training of ‘Mi digital champions’. MIL digital champions are volunteers offering advice and support about accessing the internet and the availability of new technologies for peoples’ homes. Many of the Mi digital champions can also signpost people onto accredited learning.  The partnership has set up around 55 digital ‘hubs’ across Liverpool where people can try out the internet and receive support and training in locations such as community centres and workplaces.
LCC is also playing a crucial role in MIL’s implementation. There is much that other local authorities could learn from its flexible and forward-thinking approach toward health and self-care. 

What are the achievements and remaining challenges?
More than 600 local people now have access to the internet and the technologies it brings that were previously ‘digitally excluded’.

Technology is only as good as the people behind it though. This is why are working so hard to offer enhanced resources in the community, trained clinicians to support the technology, and our team of community and digital champions are in their neighbourhoods, helping to spread the word and break down social isolation. We believe this approach, with local authority support, has the potential improve the lives of thousands of the vulnerable, the digitally excluded and their carers.

Colin Marrs

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