Tales of a Digital Champion

07 Jan 2019

According to NHS England, social prescribing "involves helping patients to improve their health, wellbeing and social welfare by connecting them to community services which might be run by the council or a local charity."

As part of the NHS Widening Digital Participation programme, our Sheffield Pathfinder - Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) - tested a model where they socially prescribed digital skills to patients.

Working with two local neighbourhoods, they looked at how to introduce patients to digital technology through this method, how digital technology can support social prescribing and in turn, how these can benefit patient activation and self-management of health.

Patients were referred to a community Digital Champion, who supported them with their digital skills journey. Here, one of those Champions shares their experiences in supporting two patients - Norris and Linda - to get started.

Read more about the Sheffield pathfinder at https://digital-health-lab.org/sheffield


"Linda (not her real name), is a dynamic lady in her early seventies. She was referred to me by her GP and - somewhat reluctantly - made an appointment. She has spent most of her life working around her severe dyslexia and avoiding technology, however, with her husband recently diagnosed with dementia, she wanted to start taking some control and responsibility for things in their lives and was persuaded that digital technology might be worth investigating.

To start with, she was unsure what she wanted, being so unfamiliar with digital devices and what they can do. As our first meeting progressed, it became clear that staying in touch with friends and family overseas and being able to do things like shop and look up local information were things she wanted to do on her own.

She was delighted to hear about accessibility features like voice-activation and dyslexia-friendly fonts and backgrounds. I committed to calling her after doing some research on her behalf, as she was unable to do this due to having difficulty reading the information.

After a second meeting together, she is looking into getting broadband installed at home and getting a smartphone and iPad.

She has expressed gratitude for her GP putting her in touch with me and for the patience and time I am able to give her in a one-to-one setting. Her confidence has already increased and she is looking forward to getting more hands-on with a phone and tablet in due course."


"Norris (not his real name), 88, is the proud owner of an iPad and mobile phone but he gets confused about what does what and doesn't use them quite enough to remember what he did last time.

His family had set him up on his iPad with an email address and passwords. While grateful for this, one of the first things he wanted to do was change these so that the family member would no longer know them. He felt that the help he had received from his family had been too rushed and perhaps not taken at his pace or with his needs and preferences in mind. He had come to me for some independent learning on his own terms.

We established that he uses his iPad mainly to receive emails from family with photos attached. We looked at how to send, file and delete emails and how to catalogue and label photos. He is keen to learn but gets quite easily confused and, observing him, it is clear that he does not think intuitively about what he is looking for on the screen or where he might find it, such as a flashing cursor or an empty field which you are required to write in.

He does enjoy the one-to-one time though. We cover much of the same material each time but his confidence and enthusiasm are growing. Things like the BBC iPlayer are a revelation to him – it's a whole new world to him that he is excited to be able to access.

If he uses his device a bit more regularly, I think he will find that he gets much more out of what he is learning."