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What do people think about getting digital information about bowel and cervical screening?

Group of people sat around a table discussing something.
All our focus group attendees were able and willing to access information online and nearly all had smartphones

You may have read one of our previous blog posts about how screening is moving towards providing information in a digital format. As part of our preparations for this, we have been running focus groups to get a feel for what people think about the change. These groups allow us to delve into what people’s opinions and ideas are around moving to online information.

We’ve already worked with the antenatal and newborn screening programmes, and late last year we ran 4 focus groups for cervical and bowel cancer screening (2 groups for each). Our attendees’ ages ranged from 46 to 76 and included:

  • women aged 25 to 64 for cervical screening
  • men and women aged 60 and over for bowel cancer screening

We wanted to get people’s views on topics such as:

  • what they thought of our current information leaflets
  • how easily they can access information online
  • what sorts of online information they like (for example, HTML documents, videos or animations)
  • what online resources they use for health information
  • whether they thought some people may be disadvantaged by not getting paper leaflets

Current leaflets

We were delighted (and relieved) to see that across all groups, people were generally very happy with the information we currently provide about the screening programmes. Although there were a few comments about the length of the leaflets, there was general agreement that the content was clear and contained about the right amount of detail.

One suggestion from a cervical screening group was to have a summary at the beginning of the leaflet, covering essential information up front. This is something we’ll look to introduce.

Moving to digital

All the focus group attendees were able and willing to access information online, and nearly all had smartphones. Some of the technology around the table put our old phones to shame!

The majority were very confident about accessing information online, although many expressed reservations about the trustworthiness of some websites. The NHS and the government (GOV.UK) websites did get the thumbs up though!

We discussed a range of information types, from PDF documents to HTML content, and the use of films and animations. People liked the simplicity and easy navigation of HTML format information on GOV.UK, and particularly liked the links within the text. Using QR codes (square barcodes you can scan with your phone) to take people to specific resources was also supported.

The use of films and animations was well received, with most people preferring animated content. One person felt that younger people particularly would like animations as they were ‘less preachy’.

Addressing inequalities

Although our attendees were happy to access online information themselves, each group expressed concern that some people would still need paper copies of leaflets. Using a helpline to request a leaflet was generally supported, although there were some misgivings about expecting people to proactively request information.

Ideally, people would like NHS IT systems to remember their communication preferences. Unfortunately, that’s not possible at the moment so it’s more of a future aspiration. In general it was appreciated that it should be the people who need (rather than just prefer) paper copies who should be catered for.

Next steps

Our take-home message from our fascinating 4 days was that people not only supported a move to digital information, they expected it. But all our groups were as keen as we are that no one is disadvantaged. Everyone needs to be able to access information to make a choice about whether to have screening.

The feedback we received from these focus groups has been incredibly useful, and we will be using it to guide our next steps along the ‘digitisation’ path. We’ll continue to blog about our progress.

Thank you to all the individuals who have helped us so far.

PHE Screening blog

The PHE Screening blog provides up to date news from all NHS screening programmes. You can register to receive updates direct to your inbox, so there’s no need to keep checking for new blogs. If you have any questions about this blog article, or about population screening in England, please contact the PHE screening helpdesk.

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