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Proportion of people using the internet frequently to manage their health has almost doubled

Published: 12 April 2023

The proportion of people in Wales who used the internet and digital technology to manage their health nearly doubled from 25 per cent in 2019/20 to 46 per cent in 2020/21, according to research published today by Public Health Wales.

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 per cent) also want to use the internet more to manage their health in the future - mostly among the 30-54 year age groups. 

This nationally representative survey asked people in Wales in the winter of 2021-22 about their access to the internet and use of technology to do the following activities: 

  • Tracking healthy behaviours – such as step counters, diet trackers or recording health symptoms 
  • Finding health information – for example about symptoms, health conditions and health services 
  • Requesting a health appointment or prescription 
  • Receiving clinical care such as GP appointments 
  • Covid-19 activities – like symptom tracking, booking a vaccination, or complying with Test, Trace, Protect requirements. 

Overall, the proportion of people without access to the internet at home continued to decline, to six percent of the population in Wales in 2020/21. There was no evidence that this was a result of the pandemic, with less than one per cent reflecting they had newly gained access to the internet over this period.   Important digital exclusion remains, with a higher proportion of those living in the most deprived areas less likely to be online (eight per cent compared to two per cent in the least deprived areas). 

Amongst those online, researchers found that unsurprisingly, Covid-19 activities were most commonly completed online at this time, while receiving clinical care was least frequently carried out on the internet.  When asked to reflect on the future, the areas of greatest potential growth were in booking health appointments or ordering prescriptions; and in self management of health. The area with least 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 reflect 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). 

Prof Alisha Davies,  said:  

“This report builds on a series of population surveys on digital exclusion and health in Wales and the findings will continue to support the development of digital transformation for health, whilst also ensuring that those who are not online, or do not choose to engage with health through technology have access to the same care.” 

Digital Inclusion Alliance Wales said,

“We welcome this report from Alliance member, Public Health Wales.  Mainstreaming digital inclusion in health and social care is a key priority in DIAW’s agenda for digital inclusion: From Inclusion to Resilience and the data in this report will help our members to target digital inclusion interventions effectively.  The digitisation of health and care services risks leaving those most in need of care behind due to digital exclusion – we must ensure that people are equipped with the skills and access they need to manage their health online.”  

The report can be downloaded here.