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Over 750 people with hearing and sight loss in West Yorkshire and Harrogate have been given the knowledge to use digital health tools to make visiting the GP easier and have experienced easier access to essential healthcare services.

Part of NHS Digital’s Widening Digital Participation (WDP) Programme, the project aims to make digital health services and information accessible to everyone.

Throughout England, 20 digital inclusion pathfinders are being run in conjunction with the charity Good Things Foundation to test new ways of helping people access digital solutions to improve their health.

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The project – run by Leeds-based mHabitat – had a goal of discovering the different challenges faced by people with hearing and sight loss in making and attending GP appointments.

Over 50 people joined workshops to discuss their experiences of using primary care and a small group also did walk-throughs of visits to a GP practice to show first-hand the barriers they encountered.

Problems included difficulties booking GP appointments, accessing buildings and waiting areas, communicating during consultations and reading information leaflets or letters.

To address some of these issues, the project team looked into the most effective apps and assistive technologies, such as online appointment booking; communication technology like electronic note-takers, tools which convert speech to text or text to speech; and an app which turns a mobile phone into a hearing aid.

The research led to a list of useful apps and technology being conjured up for GPs and other organisations to help them support patients with sensory impairments.

Nicola Gill, WDP Programme Director at NHS Digital, said: “This pathfinder has successfully shown how day-to-day technology can help overcome some of the challenges faced by people with hearing and visual impairments when they visit their GP.

“It has highlighted some valuable learning points, such as focusing on digital inclusion, listening to and working with patients and encouraging GPs to recognise that patients with disabilities may need additional support.

“We are pleased to have learned so much from this project and hope that GPs and other health practitioners across the country will adopt this model of digital inclusion to support their patients with visual and hearing impairments.”

NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner of the health and care system. Its team of information analysis, technology and project management experts create and manage the crucial digital systems, services, products and standards upon which health and care professionals depend.

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