ORCHA (the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps) has released an online report that investigates attitudes to digital health across the UK and outlines what this could mean for the NHS.
The report, entitled ‘Digital Health in the UK, National Attitudes and Behaviour Research’, surveyed both those who use digital health apps and those who do not, to provide a wider snapshot of the situation in different UK regions and demographics.
According to ORCHA, digital health “underpins the NHS future of a more patient-centred and sustainable healthcare service” and “evidence shows that empowering people with digital health products can help improve health outcomes, both for managing long-term conditions and in changing lifestyle behaviours”.
Referencing national targets in this area, as set out in the NHS Long Term Plan and supported by national standards in the NHS Digital Technology Assessment Criteria (DTAC), ORCHA adds that providers are “taking this direction to ensure a consistent experience of using digital health products, levelling up the playing field and connecting systems.”
“To build a digital transformation plan,” the report states, “it is important to gain a view of what is happening now” and “give an accurate picture”, including on what people “think of digital health, how they are using it, and if they want the NHS to provide it.”
ORCHA’s independently commissioned research found that, “in order to help the NHS, the majority of people believe it is vital we all look at new ways to manage our health,” including health apps, and in the future as well as during the COVID-19 pandemic – with 65 per cent of people agreeing with this move, and 42 per cent agreeing strongly.
The survey also uncovered that 49 per cent of people believe that doctors should be able to prescribe digital health apps like common medicines, if it saves the NHS money. Yet, overall, despite 65 per cent of people being open to digital health, only 38 per cent to date have used it, leaving a “huge opportunity to introduce technology”.
Other insight provided by the report is that the five ‘most popular’ areas where people want to see an established digital presence are: self-monitoring and symptom tracking; changes to lifestyle, such as for losing weight or quitting smoking; warnings and alerts about potential health conditions, such as skin cancer, to later discuss with a doctor; educational tools on specific conditions or to provide support before an appointment; and surgery recovery with specific physiotherapy exercises.
However, the research does suggest a large gap in digital health uptake across the different regions with “one of the biggest factors” in whether someone supports or has used digital health being where they live. The survey found that only 33 per cent of people have used a health app in the North West, compared to 69 per cent percent of London residents, meaning “significant work is needed to level-up this picture”.
Another key finding is that there are also still large gaps by age range, with 75 per cent of participants aged 18 –44 supporting digital health apps, while older participants were more hesitant. Although, more than half (52 per cent) of those aged 65 years and older still support the move to digital health.
The research also shows that older respondents were most willing to use digital apps for self-monitoring, symptom tracking, to aid in recovery from surgery and to alert them about a potential health condition. Yet, there is still a big difference in the recommendation of digital support by health and care professionals (HCP) across age groups, with a third (33.8 per cent) of people aged 18 to 24 having had their app recommended by a HCP, with the stat much lower at 3.8 per cent for those aged 65 and over.
This, says ORCHA, shows that “digital should not be considered only for the young; it is an effective tool for the elderly, who want to better manage long term health conditions.”
Ethnicity was covered in the report and, within this sphere, 64 per cent of those who said they were advocates for digital health identified themselves as white. However, the number is 20 per cent lower compared to other ethnicities, with advocacy highest (89 per cent) amongst people of black African heritage, while around ~80 per cent of people who identify as Asian ethnicity are also advocates. This highlights that digital health is “an effective tool to reach all demographics, and may be very effective when ethnicity is a key factor in a health condition or service”.
In regard to gender differences, approximately 66.8 per cent of women compared to 63.5 per cent of men “advocate for digital health”, which could offer “a real opportunity to increase support in women’s services”. But men were “more likely to receive a recommendation for a health app from a HCP (46.2 per cent), compared to women (41 per cent)”, which means they may represent an “untapped audience”.
Overall, among those who have used a health app, half of people (50 per cent) had their app recommended by a health or care staff member, which ORCHA says shows “good progress is being made”. However, the report concludes by also sounding a note of caution that “involvement by NHS staff is important” and in an “unregulated market, it is important that digital health choices are being made safely”, as among 9,000 digital health products tested, only 20 per cent met ORCHA’s quality thresholds.
To read the full ORCHA report, click here.