Digital Health Champions Network

Published by Digital Unite on

Digital Unite has recently launched a new Digital Health Champions Network.
In this article they share the research behind the training and support and how Digital Champions in health make a real difference.

A new way to help patients manage their health online

Having good digital skills enables people to manage their health and well-being and to support others to do the same. This has been brought into sharper focus with the global COVID-19 pandemic. In just a short time the reliance on digital technology got a whole lot greater as people need to find information, keep connected, access help and support, and receive essential supplies.

For health organisations, having patients with good digital skills means they can take care of people who feel better informed and in control. They can reduce the time and cost of administration and the pressure of face-to-face appointments.

Digitally-enabled care can become a reality.

Take Nicole for example. Nicole works as a Primary Care Support Assistant at the Spinney Surgery in St Ives, Cambridgeshire. The practice uses several online facilities, like appointment booking, online prescriptions and the NHS app. They want to empower patients to use these services and to gain the confidence to use other online services for their shopping and utilities.

Digital Champions can provide digital skills support far and wide

1 in 5 people don’t have the Essential Digital Skills needed for day-to-day life and the heaviest users of health and social care are the least likely to be online. How do you help these patients be digitally capable and confident?

Digital Champion models have become a key solution across different sectors for delivering learning and skills at scale and cost effectively. Digital Champions may be staff, volunteers, friends or family members but crucially they already interact with the people who need better digital skills. Whether it is signposting, advice or hands-on help, this established relationship means Digital Champions can give digital skills support that is relevant and impactful.

“We want to help our older patients with digital skills”

Some health organisations are already exploring Digital Champion support as a way of improving their services and helping their patients.

Back in Cambridgeshire Nicole explains more:

“Working in primary care I feel it would be important to help our older patient population to use technology to better manage their care at our practice.

I also wanted to learn how to better communicate with patients who may have learning disabilities, hearing impairments, memory loss and other ailments, so we can get them the best care possible and to make them feel understood.

We are looking at how much of our practice population struggles with using the surgery’s services which will give us a good idea of how many people would like the additional help and how many [Digital Champion] sessions we could run.”

Two key insights from our digital skills research

Recognising this potential, Digital Unite have been working with NHS Digital to investigate the value of a standardised, national Digital Health Champions approach.

Our research found two key things:

  1. Support from a Digital Health Champion improves the way people manage their health online
  • 74% of Digital Champions we surveyed (who don’t specifically work in health settings) had been asked to help people to manage their health online
  • Over half (55%) said their learners didn’t know they could access health information online until they were shown

“Encouraging people to follow local NHS Trusts and relevant advisory charities has seen some of my users become more informed”

Alastair, Digital Champion
  1. Existing Digital Champion projects within the NHS had worked but had been costly and resource-heavy because:
  • Each one is “starting from scratch”
  • Scale and sustainability were compromised
  • e.g. in North West London Collaboration of CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups), the Project Lead didn’t feel their Digital Ambassadors were sufficiently trained to hold sessions independently – so they were always accompanied by staff members

A new way to help patients with digital skills

Last month we were proud to launch our Digital Health Champions Network, which is an extension of our award-winning web-based platform. It:

  • focuses purely on making staff and volunteers feel confident about helping patients with digital health
  • has accredited e-learning, teaching material and project management tools
  • helps staff and volunteers overcome people’s fears about managing their health online
  • helps people use popular patient services such as the NHS app and the NHS website
  • has e-learning on overcoming accessibility barriers and engaging older people who rely on health services but are the least likely to be online

And importantly, when we speak to health professionals like Nicole, we know it works:

“I feel the course has been really helpful towards my specific reasons for becoming a Champion and I feel like I have more than enough knowledge to encourage people to take control of their health. Thanks to the help on the Digital Health Champions Network, I feel confident that I could teach people.”

Nicole, Primary Care Support Assistant, St Ives

For more information on the Digital Health Champions Network :