Covid-19 accelerates UK public’s use of digital healthcare

By Leila Hawkins
The British public has turned to virtual consultations and online symptom checking as a result of the pandemic...


In January this year, the UK's Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock delivered a speech talking about the importance of preparing the NHS for a digital-first future. He spoke about upskilling staff and appointing digital experts to NHS boards, to help oversee a radical digital transformation.

Just a few weeks later, the COVID-19 viral outbreak was declared a worldwide pandemic. This unprecedented event has caused healthcare professionals and the general public to turn to digital healthcare in equal measure. 

Visits to the NHS website increased hugely during the month of March, peaking on the 17th when they reached 3.4 million, the highest daily total ever. Of these, 2.2. million accessed health services with information relating to coronavirus. 

The NHS app had previously launched in 2019. In March 2020 the number of people downloading the app rose significantly. Registrations increased by 111 per cent, with the number of repeat prescription requests made via the app increasing by 97 per cent. There was also a 62 per cent increase in people viewing their GP medical records. 

Additionally the number of people visiting the NHS 111 website to assess COVID-19 symptoms increased by more than 50 times compared to before the pandemic. 

NHS England has selected 11 suppliers to extend access to video consultations for primary care, aiming to help the NHS cope with patient demand during the outbreak. NHS Digital fast-tracked video technology to encourage people to consult a GP online and avoid visiting their GP practice in person. 

One of the suppliers chosen by NHS England is Doctorlink, who was selected to provide online triage as well as video consultations. Patients of surgeries signed up to Doctorlink can download their app. This lets them check symptoms online 24/7 and book an appointment with a professional through the online portal. 

During the first six months of this year, Doctorlink’s patient base increased by 148 per cent. The total number of NHS GP surgeries using the platform rose by 278 per cent during the same period. 

As a result, Doctorlink is now available to over 12.5 million NHS patients through 1,500 GP surgeries, with the number of online symptom assessments more than doubling. 

The CEO of Doctorlink, Rupert Spiegelberg, says these numbers show widespread adoption of digital healthcare among the public. “While these figures show that COVID-19 created a significant shift towards patient acceptance of online triage solutions, they also demonstrate that large numbers of patients were adopting and benefitting from these tools in the months before the pandemic reached the UK” he explained. 

“Following Matt Hancock’s recent announcement that the NHS should be working towards a digital-first model of patient care, we are expecting this growth to continue. Looking ahead, we are also working to extend our reach to support public and private healthcare providers around the world.


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