Use of digital healthcare in UK soars in 2020

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Usage of digital healthcare services provided by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) soared in 2020, according to data compiled by NHS Digital.

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak tech services provided by NHS Digital saw unprecedented levels of usage by both patients and frontline staff, as a result of social distancing and the need to access healthcare remotely.

Some of the technologies that have seen the biggest increases include:

  • The NHS website, one of the biggest health-related websites in the world; usually attracting around 360 million visits a year, which is around 30 million visits a month. As of December 2020 it had an estimated 803 million visits.
  • The NHS App, which allows people to access services on their smartphone or tablet such as ordering repeat prescriptions and booking and cancelling appointments. On December 11 2019, there were 192,676 people using the NHS App. By December 13 2020 this figure had increased by 912 per cent to 1,951,640 users. The number of repeat prescription requests made via the app increased by 495 per cent – from 45,931 in January 2020 to 273,351 in November 2020, and the number of patient record views rose by 321 per cent – from 258,404 in January 2020 to 1,089,615 in November 2020.
  • NHS Pathways is the triage software that directs nearly 19 million emergency calls per year to the most appropriate service available. In November 2020 the system was responsible for triaging 1,526,902 calls to 111 and 999, a 2.5 per cent increase from the previous year. The busiest month was August 2020, which saw an increase of 17.7 per cent compared to August 2019.
  • NHS 111 online allows patients to get urgent healthcare online. Between June and November 2020 there were 3,569,917 recorded sessions, a 257 per cent increase on the same period in 2019 when there were 999,150 recorded sessions.
  • Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) EPS allows prescribers to send prescriptions electronically to a pharmacy of the patient’s choice. The number of EPS nominations increased by 25 per cent in 2020.

Commenting on these figures, Ben Davison, NHS Digital’s Executive Director for Product Development said: “There’s no doubting that 2020 has been a challenging year for the NHS. Our teams have had to work harder and faster than ever to cope with the huge public demand for the many digital technologies across the NHS.

“It’s this technology that has enabled doctors, nurses and other health professionals to deliver care remotely where possible – freeing up time for those patients who need face-to-face care. It’s this technology that is keeping people well while they isolate with good information and advice, and the ability to manage things like prescriptions remotely.

“We’re fully expecting the numbers using NHS tech to continue rising in 2021, as the general public continues to play a key role in helping to ease the burden on our fantastic frontline services.”