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18th July 2021

Report suggests willingness to embrace digital heath to help NHS

Despite current complaints about face-to-face access to GPs, a new report shows the public may be willing to embrace digital health to help the NHS, both in the long term and during any fresh COVID-19 outbreaks.

Research by OnePoll for ORCHA, the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps, found respondents are prepared to try health technology, and report high rates of satisfaction when they did.

The NHS Long Term plan sets out national targets for the adoption of digital health, which healthcare providers are working towards.

The research found that:

  • 65% of respondents agreed that they’d be willing to use more technology, such as health apps, as part of a fresh approach.
  • Nearly half the respondents (49%) even agreed that doctors should be able to prescribe health apps just like they prescribe traditional medicines.
  • Of the 38% who had already used a health app, a striking 87% said they were satisfied with the experience (nearly 40% of those were strongly satisfied).

Respondents were most likely to use health apps:

  • To track and monitor symptoms, such as those associated long-term conditions
  • To help support lifestyle changes like smoking or diet
  • To be alert to potential conditions such as skin cancer
  • To self-educate on a condition prior to an appointment with a doctor or clinician
  • To help recovery from surgery, such as following physiotherapy programmes.

Where you live influences how you use digital health. Londoners appear far more tech savvy than residents elsewhere. 80% are advocates of health apps and 69% have used digital health previously. Usage stands much lower in other regions, such as the North West, where only 33% of people have used a health app.

Ethnicity is also a significant factor. At 89%, advocacy is highest amongst people of black African heritage. Whilst 80% of people who identify as Asian are advocates.

Support for digital technology is highest amongst the younger age groups aged between 18 and 44. However, more than half (52%) of those aged 65 years and older also support the move to digital health.

These older residents are most willing to use health apps for self-monitoring and tracking symptoms (30%), to aid in recovery following surgery (27%), and to be alert to a potential health condition (26%).

The research indicates that, of those who have used a health app, half had their app recommended by a health or care staff member. However, hospital clinicians had only recommended the app in 8% of cases.

Dr Lloyd Humphreys, managing director of ORCHA, said: “This involvement by NHS staff is important, as in an unregulated market it is important that digital health choices are being made safely, with professional recommendations. ORCHA tested almost 9,000 digital health products available in app stores and found that only 20% meet quality thresholds.

“More broadly, using health apps is only part of the answer to our future healthcare, but there’s increasing evidence that the more we citizens embrace technology and the self-management of our health, the more we will help ourselves and our NHS.

“For example, research has shown that breathing apps help users correct 98% of inhaler errors – and one cancer support app reduced A&E admissions by 38% because users were able to monitor symptoms and manage their medication regimes correctly.  Every improved patient outcome can be translated into a cost saving for our NHS.”

With no regulation and 80% of health apps falling below quality levels, ORCHA, which supports 70% of NHS regions with libraries of high-quality health apps, also monitors the national demand for digital health. Medical app downloads in the UK grew by 50% year-on-year in 2020 and global downloads surpassed 3.2 billion.

ORCHA also notes a significant trend: people are not just downloading an app and forgetting about it – they are using it daily. Globally, daily active users grew by 24% in the first half of 2021.

The full research report is available at: https://orchahealth.com/patients-seek-digital-health-to-reduce-pressure-on-the-nhs/