The importance of community in creating successful digital health programs

By Jess Wilson (Good Things Foundation Australia)

15 September 2020: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact across all of Australian society. One of the most noticeable changes has been the rapid increase in how we use digital technology to work, access and provide healthcare, and connect with family and friends.

But what if you are one of the 2.5 million Australians who are not online?

Only a third of adults in a recent survey said they felt very confident they have the skills and access to information they need to feel safe online. If you’re part of this demographic, how do you confidently access that telehealth appointment, attend a virtual fitness class, maintain social connections or find reliable health information online?

At Good Things Foundation, we believe that supporting people to learn essential digital health literacy skills is critical to ensuring every Australian can make informed, confident choices when it comes to supporting their health and wellbeing.

We also believe that community organisations are critical in supporting people who may otherwise be left behind to build these skills and capabilities.

Every day we work in partnership with libraries, community centres, men’s sheds, multicultural communities and seniors groups to provide digital literacy support programs in over 3,000 communities across Australia. We have seen that despite the challenges of the pandemic, when you provide local, tailored support in a trusted community setting, people at risk of digital exclusion can better participate in the world of digital health and support their overall wellbeing.

After participating in our pilot Health My Way program at community organisations, 80 per cent of people reported having increased their digital health literacy skills and confidence. As a result of gaining basic digital skills through the Be Connected program, 77 per cent felt they had increased their social connections.

For example, Indochinese Elderly Refugees Association (IERA) in Melbourne was delivering our Health My Way program to improve their community’s digital health skills, before recently returning to lockdown. As a result of this support, learners went from never hearing about My Health Record and feeling it was too complicated to get started with MyGov, to being strong advocates of online health tools and having the confidence to view their medical records online.

Another organisation in our Network, CIRE Services, has been helping their community to join fitness classes remotely during lockdown and combat social isolation, thanks to additional funding for loan tablets, free data and a friendly, trusted helping hand to get started.

Even something as simple as providing internet access in a community space can have an impact on health and wellbeing outcomes. Through the Be Connected program, Middleton Community Hall in Tasmania connected broadband to offer their community free wi-fi. Once COVID-19 restrictions put a halt to community gatherings, a local clinical psychologist and mindset coach set up in the hall to provide online mental health support. Being able to offer face-to-face support virtually helped her to break down barriers with people seeking support for the first time during COVID-19.

By working in partnership with trusted community organisations and health professionals, we can create a more confident, connected and digitally skilled community where online health and wellbeing initiatives will have the greatest impact.

About Good Things Foundation Australia

Jess Wilson is National Director of Good Things Foundation Australia, a social change charity helping people to improve their lives through digital. Good Things Foundation runs Health My Way, a community-based digital health literacy program supported by the Australian Digital Health Agency, and the Australian Government funded Be Connected Network and Grants program.