Digital skills essential for good health, report finds
Access to the internet and having digital skills are essential for people's health and wellbeing, a new report has found.
NHS Digital, part of the UK's National Health Service, undertook a three-year project that trialled digital technology with disadvantaged communities as part of the NHS' Widening Digital Participation Programme. The report concluded that to reduce health inequalities, tackling the 'digital divide' is essential.
Covid-19 and the resulting increase in the use of technology has exposed the links between economic disadvantage and digital exclusion, the authors say.
Throughout the programme, several digital health hubs were set up across England, with the aim of building digital healthcare literacy and improving access to services.
Between 2017 and 2020 almost 300,000 people were reached through 23 'pathfinder' projects. Managed by social change charity Good Things Foundation, the projects trialled different ways of using digital technology to improve the health of the most excluded people in society.
The projects included using tablets to triage the health problems of homeless people, and promoting breast screening through Facebook - this led to an increase in uptake and has now been adopted elsewhere in England.
Another initiative involved loaning tech to individuals caring for people with dementia, who reported huge benefits to their wellbeing.
The report's authors are now recommending creating a network of digital hubs that can support people to use different devices and assistive technologies. They also emphasised the importance of spending time with people to understand their needs, and design services with them, instead of for them.
“The pathfinders were developed around the principle of going to where people are, whether that was a GP surgery, a homeless shelter, a dementia support group or a cancer support network" explained Nicola Gill, director of the Widening Digital Participation Programme at NHS Digital.
“Being there, talking to people, drinking tea and learning about their lives allowed us to gain trust and valuable insights into what they really need.
“If NHS commissioners, policy makers and designers of digital health services and tools can do just some of the things recommended in this report, then hopefully we can start to narrow the gap of health inequalities, and help people benefit from the choice and convenience they offer.”
On the rise: Doktor.se
1. Doktor.se launches as a digital healthcare platform in Sweden in 2016. The company's focus is on the B2B market, with a mission to help members find, book and get access to healthcare services through telehealth and telephone calls.
2. The company offers healthcare services through its app as well as at bricks and mortar clinics. After raising more than €40 million in a funding round in May 2020 to expand its operations both nationally and overseas, CEO and founder Martin Lindman says there are plans to enter new markets at the beginning of 2021.
3. Belgium becomes the fifth market where Doktor.se provides telemedicine, through Belgium's communications company Proximus Group. It becomes the second most downloaded doctor app in Europe, and over 1.2 million patient consultations are carried out, either through the app or at physical clinics in Sweden. Throughout 2020 it administers over 250,000 COVID-19 antibody tests in Sweden.
4. Doktor.se is the most popular digital healthcare in Sweden, used by approximately one-tenth of the country's population. New funds are raised to offer improved services for mental health and chronic illnesses, and to expand digital services and acquire physical services to integrate into its digital platforms with the aim of creating a hybrid model.
5. The company announces €29.5 million in funding from Chinese technology multinational Tencent Holdings. Doktor.se say the funds will be used to make its global healthcare services more efficient, accessible and affordable.
The platform now employs nurses, doctors and specialist doctors, psychologists, and physiotherapists, and is available across Europe and in Brazil.
6. Over 1.5 million people are currently using healthcare apps developed by Doktor.se, either run by the company or through its SaaS licensing business. There are around 900 people employed by the company, and Doktor.se say that the productivity of medical staff using the platform is up to four times greater than those working in traditional services.