The proportion of people in Wales who used the internet and digital technology to manage their health nearly doubled from 25% in 2019-20 to 46% in 2020-21, according to research published by Public Health Wales.
It was carried out by DJS Research and involved a survey of around 2,500 interviews of a cross-section of residents of the country during the winter of 2021-22, asking about their internet access and use of technology for activities such as finding health information, tracking behaviours, arranging appointments and prescriptions, and receiving clinical care.
People were also asked if they used online channels for Covid-19 activities such as symptom tracking, booking vaccinations and complying with ‘test and trace’ requirements.
Among the findings was that, amongst those with access to the internet, younger people, and those with long term medical conditions, were most likely to be frequent users of technology for health. More than half (53%) also wanted to use the internet more to manage their health in the future - mostly among the 30-54 year age groups.
The researchers found that Covid-19 activities were most commonly completed online at this time, while receiving clinical care was least frequently carried out on the internet.
Perspectives on future
When asked to reflect on the future, participants indicated that the areas of greatest potential growth were in booking health appointments or ordering prescriptions, and in self-management of health. The area with least expected growth was in receiving clinical care online.
Dr Diana Bright, senior public health researcher for Public Health Wales, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic clearly had an immediate impact on many aspects of our lives, with numerous activities transferring online very quickly. This study shows that this did not push people online, but amongst those already online there was marked growth in the use of the internet and tech to support health.
“This may have reflected the context of the pandemic, but interesting there was strong interest in the use of digital tech for health into the future. We need to consider public preferences when developing digital health - as some services may be better received than others (eg, ordering prescriptions and booking appointments, rather than clinical care).”
Overall, the proportion of people without access to the internet at home continued to decline to 6% of the population in Wales in 2020-21. There was no evidence that this was a result of the pandemic, with less than 1% reflecting that they had newly gained access to the internet over this period; but there is digital exclusion, with 8% those living in the most deprived areas less likely to be online compared with 2% in the least deprived areas.