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Walsall residents help shape healthcare’s digital future

Residents across Walsall have been sharing their views on digital technology as part of a research project that could shape the development of healthcare services.
Walsall 12 December 1

Midlands’ landlord whg is supporting academics from the University of Birmingham who are investigating what people need to be digitally included in healthcare.

Eighteen Community Champions and Social Prescribers from whg’s Stronger Communities service were trained as peer researchers by the university and spent 12 months collecting stories from customers to understand how helpful or unhelpful they find digital health platforms.  As customers themselves, their connection with local communities has meant they have been able to have open and transparent conversations not available to academic researchers. The findings have been used to produce the ‘What Good Looks Like for our Communities’ guide, setting out what needs to be considered when developing and implementing new digital health resources to ensure they are inclusive for communities.

As part of the research project clinicians, innovators and technology companies also met face to face with local residents to find out how they use digital technology, including what works for them and what barriers they face.

It is hoped that through the collaborative approach, where customers are involved in designing services from the start, new technology will be user-friendly and meet the needs of those who may struggle digitally.

Connie Jennings, whg’s Director of Stronger Communities, said: “As more and more services are moved online, we are in danger of increasing inequalities and leaving people behind. This project has demonstrated the importance of developing digital with people rather than for people. Digital has the ability to reduce inequalities but must be designed by listening to and working with the communities who need it the most.

“What is new about the project is that it puts people and communities from areas of high deprivation at the centre of the innovation process right from the beginning.

“By integrating their knowledge, we can help address the dangers of increasing health inequalities due to digitalisation.

“It’s a real privilege that whg has been chosen to sit alongside other partner organisations across the Black Country to undertake this work.”

Paulina Ramirez, Assistant Professor at Birmingham Business School, said: “Working with peer researchers from whg has allowed us to gain a deep understanding of the way communities use digital technologies. The challenge now is to ensure that the knowledge we have gained shapes digital health technologies and online health services.”

The report can be read at https://research.birmingham.ac.uk/en/publications/what-good-looks-like-for-communities-2

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