Leeds: Weaving a new digital narrative

Zoe Limbert

Following the Leeds Digital Festival 2017, Julie Oxley – Portfolio Lead for Leeds City Digital and also British Computer Society Vice Chair for Social Care reflects on the citizen focused health and care event:

“Although I have worked in health and social care longer than I care to remember it is my own experiences with my father that helped to crystalize both my understanding of self management and how we might best help people get the most out of the revolution in digital health. 

Even though I thought I understood the NHS and Social Care sectors, sitting with my father through consultations, trying to make sense of his appointment letters (sometimes sent with conflicting information and appointment times) and then attempting to arrange social care, even I, as an insider, found the system difficult to navigate.  How are we to expect people to self manage their condition when we have yet to provide a system that gives them the opportunity to do this effectively?

But in Leeds we are trying to do this, and we’re doing it by listening to people so we can best understand their needs and expectations and how digital technology might be able to help them.  In a world where digital is the norm, the accepted way of interacting, we know that there are people who are left behind; people for whom the online world is inaccessible in one way or the other.  And we are not prepared to let that happen.

Leeds City Council and the NHS organisations in the city are proactively working with the citizens of Leeds to increase access to online health information so that people have the skills, tools and confidence to manage their health more effectively.  Now, we could invest in loads of whizzy new tech and just hand it out to those most in need, but we know that this is not the answer.  Unless we really understand what people need, what they understand about technology and how they intend to use it, we have failed before we’ve really begun (as illustrated by this video https://vimeo.com/128873380). 

My role, and one that I am relishing, is to co-produce solutions with patients and service users themselves. We are looking at how technology can best support people to make the right choices for them.  I have met with many patients through our Digital Discovery Workshops – we are initially focussing on people with diabetes, COPD patients, those with long term conditions, and people who have fallen or who are at risk of falling – and each time, I am impressed by the knowledge and insight they bring and how willing they are to share their experiences. 

We have found that creating a fictitious patient helps people to develop a narrative that incorporates their challenges but also informs our decision making about which tools will help people best.  But it doesn’t end there. We want patients to experience the results of their participation and so solutions are offered back to the group as a real life, real time trial. 

The findings of the Digital Discovery Workshops are also of real interest to suppliers as they present an opportunity to trial and develop products that meet patient’s needs and expectations.  Suppliers are engaging with us, knowing that their products will be used by people who have invested time and effort in their development.

There is so much more that we are doing and this is just one thread of a much wider digital tapestry but to us, it is the people of Leeds who are weaving our digital design.”

julie-oxley-2Julie Oxley


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