Report points to increased take-up of digital services by vulnerable people, with potential savings for GPs and A&E departments
An NHS England programme has succeeded in getting increasing numbers of vulnerable people to use the internet to manage their health, rather than go to their GP or an A&E department.
A new report by the Tinder Foundation charity, which has run the Widening Digital Participation programme with NHS England, rattles off a series of numbers pointing to subsequent benefits and says the trend could ease some of the pressure on health service finances.
The programme began in July 2013, aimed at giving people who are socially excluded the digital skills to use online sources to manage their own health.
It has involved the building of the Digital Health Information network, with local advisers providing face-to-face support, funding for a number of pathfinder organisations, and developing content for the Learn My Way platform. It has also encouraged people to use NHS Choices and the GP online appointment booking service.
Since it began almost 222,000 people had been trained to use the tools, with 82% falling into at least social exclusion category.
The report says the results have pointed to a positive impact on frontline NHS services, highlighting a number of statistics from its survey of learners:
- 21% said they made fewer calls or visits to their GP.
- 10% made fewer calls to NHS 111.
- 6% made fewer visits to A&E.
- 29% have gone online to find health services such as looking for a new GP.
- 22% have booked GP appointments online.
- 20% have ordered repeat prescriptions online.
- 17% have gone online to rate or review a health service.
It also points to the potential for savings by reducing the strain on services, estimated at £3.7 million a year for GP visits and £2.3 million for A&E visits.
Helen Milner (pictured), chief executive of the Tinder Foundation, said: “The programme has helped people to move non-urgent medical queries from face-to-face and emergency channels to online ones, saving an estimated £6 million a year to the NHS, as well as ensuring people have timely support when they need it.
“The programme has also supported the wider wellbeing of those supported, helping to address complex issues behind social exclusion and poor mental health.”
In the report’s foreword, Anu Singh, director of patient and public participation and insight at NHS England, says it is going to continue pushing the cause of digital literacy as part of the NHS Five Year Forward View.
“We also know that we cannot do this on our own – so we will work alongside our colleagues in other parts of the system to ensure that digital health is an integral element of digital skills training and digital inclusion support and that it is integrated into lifelong learning, particularly in communities which experience the most health inequalities,” she says.