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Over 50s reluctant to access NHS digital health consultations

FEWER than one in three (29%) people over 50 accessed a digital consultation with a healthcare professional between March and August 2020, according to the findings of a survey commissioned by online digital health platform Visiba.  

The findings of a survey of over 1,000 UK residents showed that just two in five people had an online healthcare consultation – defined as any kind of contact with healthcare services online via video chat or messaging – between March and August last year.

People under 30 were most likely to have had a digital consultation, with half of all 18-29 year-olds accessing healthcare online and one in three saying that their use of remote appointments had increased, according to the survey conducted by Kantar Sifo.

The results show that middle-aged and older adults used online consultations less often, with nearly three quarters (73%) of women over 65 and just under two thirds (63%) of men admitting that they had not used an online consultation during the first nationwide lockdown or over the summer months.

The figures highlight a reversal in usual healthcare patterns, where young people tend to access healthcare the least and contact with healthcare professionals increases with age.

The new trend is likely in part down to an element of social responsibility among middle-aged and older adults who, during the first national lockdown, felt duty-bound not to access healthcare to ‘protect the NHS’.

Polling by NHS England last spring showed that four in 10 people had not sought any contact with their GP because they were afraid to be a burden on the NHS during the pandemic.

And a recent report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies found that disruptions to hospital, GP, community and social care were widespread during the early stages of the pandemic. One in seven people who said they needed to speak to a GP had decided not to.

Graham Kendall, director of the Digital Health Council said: “It is important that we are able to fully understand and analyse what has happened over the course of the past year so our health services can address the issue of digital health uptake.

Having a clearer idea of patient demand for online healthcare consultations, and more generally for digital health services, along with an accurate picture of what’s available to patients, means we can start to develop a true system-wide digital transformation.”

Tina Marshall, UK manager for Visiba said: “We must do more than simply substitute video consultations for face-to-face appointments.  If we’re going to move ahead with truly system-wide digital transformation, it’s important that we learn from insight like this and build on feedback from both those that do and those that do not currently use online appointments.”


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