The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase in health app downloads and digital health services, research from the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Applications (Orcha) has found.
This has particularly been true for mental health apps, as the UK public has struggled during the pandemic, with downloads increasing by nearly 200% from summer 2019 to summer 2020.
“Mental health has always been a top search query and can be seen back to January 2019. But looking again to March 2020, we can see a magnification of this which has continued into the end of 2020,” the report said.
“This may have been fuelled by an increased prevalence of mental health concerns and increasing unmet needs for face-to-face psychological services due to the second lockdown in November and the cumulative effect of Covid-19. This may also be a reflection of growing awareness of digital health solutions within this space.”
It found that, overall, health app downloads have increased by 25% during the pandemic. The report added that Covid-19 has emphasised and increased the use of digital health tools, and that while some have found it challenging, others have embraced it.
“As we enter another wave of national lockdowns, although health services remain open, there are still efforts to treat people remotely. Now, and when life slowly comes back to a new normal, we must continue to harness digital health to address the health and service issues left by Covid-19 and not lose the gains that digital health has provided over this period,” the report said.
It added that the pandemic has also led to less monitoring of diabetic patients, and while there has been the ability to perform home blood glucose tests and video consulting technology, “there are digital health solutions that if mapped to the patient pathway may provide opportunities for improved self-management at every stage”.
Orcha said it anticipated that there will be a rapid expansion of structures put in place in 202 to ensure digital health can move forward, and called for an improved procurement system and better education for health and care professionals.
This includes procurement structures, which will enable health and care professionals to prescribe digital health tools that have been tested and met certain standards, with a procurement framework in place, as well as education on the use of specific digital health tools, to ensure health professionals are trained in how to prescribe them and use them as part of routine practice.
“With greater maturity of digital health, and evidence of the impact it can make, it will be adopted across all of the national health priorities,” the report said.
“This means there will be continued use in weight management and mental health services, but we will also see a growing use of digital health in fields not yet actively adopting digital, including services for cancer, cardiovascular disease, maternity and neonatal health, and stroke.”
Commenting on the report, founding CEO of Orcha, Liz Ashall-Payne, said the pandemic has seen a “massive upsurge” in the use of digital health apps. She added that with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) introducing guidance on digital health, 2021 “will be the year when health and care staff embrace the full potential of apps – and it goes way beyond video conferencing”.
“We will start to see digital approaches being integrated into care pathways,” she added.
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