Technology and the internet play a big role in enabling people to stay connected and access services of all kinds – and particularly so during recent, turbulent months. But how much are digital health services used, particularly by the people in most need?
ONS data published last week on internet access in January and February 2020 enables us to compare internet use for health-related and non-health-related activities, and between people who are disabled (in line with the Equality Act definition of disability) and those who are not.
People with a disability were often more likely to use the internet for health-related activities than people without disabilities, whereas for non-health related activities they were less likely. For example, 23% of people with a disability used an online health service such as getting a consultation or prescription online, compared to 13% of people without a disability.
Far fewer people, regardless of disability, used the internet for activities related to their health than for activities such as internet banking, social media or reading news. For example, only 21% of people used it to make an appointment with a health care professional, and only 15% used an online health service rather than visiting a doctor or hospital for things like getting a consultation or prescription online.
We know that online or digital options can offer huge potential for people with long-term conditions to better self-manage their condition. Given the impact of the pandemic on health services, we might expect more people to take advantage of online or remote ways of accessing services than prior to the pandemic – we’ve already seen huge changes in the way that people have been accessing and using primary care since the lockdown.
Understanding the experiences of people who have used the internet for health-related activities during the pandemic will be important for making sure that services are appropriate and accessible to the people that need them.