This week PIF held the second of its online Health Information Challenges and Solutions workshops. The future of printed information, reaching new audiences and dealing with digital exclusion/accessibility issues were the key themes.

The open space event is a chance for members to set the agenda and tell us how we can support them to produce the best possible health information. Our last workshop led to the production of our Health Information Matters infographic.

Before the workshop we asked members to tell us their top three health information challenges.

These were then grouped into main themes and we asked delegates to vote on which they would like to discuss in a series of breakout rooms.

It was interesting to see how priorities had shifted since our last workshop in November.

Many of the concerns raised reflect the work PIF is doing following the publication of our Health and Digital Literacy Survey report and our upcoming Involving Users: Co-production guide.

The discussions also identified some new resources and projects which we will be developing over the coming months.

Below is a summary of the main concerns raised within each theme and feedback from the discussion groups.

The future of printed health information

The main concerns around the future of print information included:

  • Costs of producing printed materials
  • Difficulties in measuring the reach or impact of printed materials
  • Being unable to do interim updates

Broadly speaking there is a desire to decrease print materials and increase digital offerings among members. The pandemic has increased the public's ability to use digital tools and many organisations are facing increased budget constraints.

However, many people still lack basic digital skills or access and there are advantages to print materials. Printed booklets can offer all the information needed in one place, unlike multiple website pages which can be hard to navigate.

Other benefits include a connection between patients and health professionals, increased brand awareness for charities, consultation support and their accessibility for those who are digitally excluded.

Members are unsure of the impact of many of their print resources.

A potential solution is to ask users to provide feedback on the print resources they receive. However, this has seen limited uptake in the past.

Co-ordinated working between the health information team and those manning helplines can improve understanding of who is receiving information and what its impact has been.

Members feel, if print is reduced, websites must be fit for purpose. Many organisations' websites are still difficult to navigate, especially when users arrive via a Google search rather than the home page.

If new ways of delivering information are being created, there must be the budgets and support in place to properly promote and measure the impact of new formats.

It is also important information is rewritten and designed for online rather than printed materials simply being uploaded to websites.

A blended digital and print offer was suggested as one possible solution. 

For example, an overview information leaflet with a QR code directing patients to specialised information. However, despite increased uptake of QR codes during COVID-19, this approach is still reliant on people having smartphones and being willing to use them.

Reaching new audiences, including those not looking for health information via social media

The main concerns about reaching new audiences included:

  • Reaching those who do not use social media or other online tools
  • Reaching people who are not actively seeking health information
  • Reaching seldom heard groups

Reaching those who are not actively seeking health information or are seldom heard is a long-term challenge for our members. A lack of physical events over the past 12 months has only exacerbated the problem.

Social media and other online tools can be a great way to reach new audiences.

Breast Cancer Now shared a signs and symptoms animation during Breast Cancer Awareness Month supported by Spotify advertising.

In 2019, Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust teamed up with YouTube star Zoe Sugg who had a live smear test and Q&A with the nurse on her channel.

However, members also want to reach those who are not using online tools.

It is important to think about who you are targeting and decide on appropriate channels and messaging.

Avert had run a successful campaign with football and cricket programmes for young men which raised awareness of sexual health alongside sports training.

Marie Curie worked with Superdrug and Savers to provide free bereavement support to staff and customers. The telephone service was promoted in store and via Superdrug's channels.

Local radio has been used in Manchester and Nottingham to target men with information on lung cancer and prostate cancer.

Reaching People partnered with local food banks to provide quality information, advice and advocacy to those accessing emergency food services.

Members strongly felt it would be useful to have a database of innovative ideas to engage new audiences.

As a result of this discussion, PIF is looking at two new projects – a short summary of some of the case studies mentioned during the workshop and an ongoing piece of work where members can share their new projects.

Dealing with digital exclusion and accessibility issues

The main concerns about digital exclusion and accessibility included:

  • Concern that, with so many different accessibility considerations, things will be missed
  • Costs of translated materials and difficulty in monitoring the quality
  • Reaching people who are not online
  • A lack of confidence/skills in using digital tools among the target audience

This year has seen a huge move to digital services. While members welcomed the opportunities this provides, there is concern that the most vulnerable are being excluded.

Anecdotal evidence includes attendance of a cancer support group dropping by 75% among older adults when it moved online.

Building on existing good practice of what has worked is a good starting point when considering accessibility. NHS Wales has a best practice guide to accessibility.

The Digital Inclusion Alliance for Wales has also recently set out five approaches which it feels are essential to making Wales an exemplar for digital inclusion.

Layering is a good way to avoid overcomplicating information. Reducing the information per screen means it is easier to digest while still allowing those with more access or skills to delve deeper if they wish.

Browse Aloud is a commonly used tool to increase accessibility. 

Rosie Bernard from Avert recommended Principles for Digital Development as a good way to focus efforts on accessibility and co-production.

Partnership working is seen as one of the most effective ways to reach people who are not online. Several members had seen success working with other organisations, who work in the communities they serve, to reach different audiences.

Partnerships can also be useful to increase skills. Laura Schubert from Public Health England highlighted a partnership between the Refugee Council and a local authority to train digital champions.

Members felt a step-by-step checklist on making web content accessible to a range of audiences would be useful.

As a result of this discussion, PIF is going to produce a short guide to checking accessibility.

Members felt there is a need for a national repository of translated material which had also been edited to be culturally appropriate. This has been an ongoing theme in several of our discussions with members over the past 12 months.

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