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Insights from Brook’s National Consultation

Matt Rigby, Head of Digital, explains how our National Consultation has helped shape digital innovation by clarifying the role of online services in improving access to sexual health care for Boys and Young Men.

We have an ambitious vision for digital at Brook, which is being delivered through our Digital Front Door programme. We are working to:

  • Create the first user-led online sexual health platform, empowering service users to take control of their health and wellbeing through a ‘Digital Front Door’ to Brook’s services and educational information. 
  • Better prioritise those most in need of face-to-face help and provide improved and more efficient services for those who can ‘self-care’. 
  • Provide seamless, remote access to Brook’s existing clinical services – through a range of digital tools, information and advice.

At its core, the vision recognises that the tools, services and content that we create as part of the Digital Front Door programme need to be guided by the voice of our users.

That vision speaks to the needs of a range of users including our own Brook staff and especially our service users. At its core, the vision recognises that the tools, services and content that we create as part of the Digital Front Door programme need to be guided by the voice of our users.

For our service users, this crystalises into two main themes: 

  1. Empowerment: Enabling service users to take more agency and control over their sexual health and wellbeing. 
  2. Improved choice and ease of access: Providing options for interacting with our clinical services at times and places that work best for service users. 

This is why Brook’s national consultation, undertaken by our Participation Team at the start of 2022, has been such an important piece of work for Digital Front Door.

About the consulatation

In seeking to understand the role that online services have to play in improving access to sexual health services for boys and young men, the consultation focused on listening to the needs of a group of our potential service users that we know are some of the most difficult to reach. 

It’s only by listening to their needs and acting on what we hear that we will start to see change.

Although our online services do perform slightly better than face to face clinical services at reaching this boys and young men, with only 23% of those using our online STI home testing coming from that group (it’s 15% for our face to face services), it’s clear that we have work to do in order to drive up engagement from this particular demographic. It’s only by listening to their needs and acting on what we hear that we will start to see change.  

It was encouraging to see many of the themes coming out of the consultation tying back to our existing Digital Front Door priorities around providing more empowerment and choice for our service users. That’s indicative, at least, that we’re on the right track!

But there remain some key findings from the research that will be clear priorities for us as we move forwards into the next phase of the project.

Understanding how can we reach more boys and young men with the tools we have to offer

Young people told us that there were different ways in which we could connect with them, including social media platforms, shopping website, music streaming services and gaming platforms. We will look at ways of promoting our tools and content through these platforms in a targeted way, to try and connect with more potential boys and young men. 

Addressing barriers to access that stem from the stigma and perception of sexual health services

Stigma and ‘taboo’ around accessing sexual health services was another key theme. We will look continue to look for new opportunities to change the narrative around sexual health – to make the case that engaging with sexual health services as part of prevention should be something to celebrate.

Our 2022 Sexual Health Week campaign will focus specifically on Breaking down Barriers when it comes to how users engage with services.

Recognising the importance of being trusted and reassuring when it comes to quality of care

One surprising finding was the lack of trust that many young people had in the way their data and confidentiality would be treated if engaging online, and also the importance of reassuring them around the quality and effectiveness of the service being provided. We already offer messaging around data protection and confidentiality, but we’ll look at increasing the presence of these kinds of reassurances.  

Continuing to provide choice about how services are accessed

It’s worth finishing by saying that, as with all our digital tools, we see our Digital Front Door as complimenting our existing face to face services, and adding choice and flexibility for when service users want to seek support online. Where boys and young men (or any other service user!) choose to interact with Brook in a face-to-face setting, we will always do our best to meet their needs there. 

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