Digital tools including NHS website and 111 key to self-care but Government must better promote trustworthy information online
New research carried out by PAGB has revealed shifts in the public’s use of apps and other digital interventions in managing self-treatable health conditions.
Three years on from our first audit in 2020, PAGB’s latest digital self-care audit analysed a range of NHS digital tools, which are free for the public to use to access health and self-care information, between February and May 2023. Tools reviewed as part of the audit included NHS 111 (online and telephone), the NHS app, NHS website and websites from England’s 42 Integrated Care Systems (ISCs). In addition, the audit also looked at NHS England (NHSE) datasets and parliamentary and UK Government documents.[i]
The audit found that, for the NHS website and App:
The audit found that, for NHS 111:
The audit recommends NHS England and UK Government maximise opportunities for better supporting self-care using existing digital tools.
These recommendations include:
Responding to the findings of the self-care audit, Michelle Riddalls, PAGB, CEO, said:
“Digital apps and interventions are vital in helping empower the public to learn more about and manage self-treatable conditions at home, without placing extra pressure on our already-stretched NHS services, including GPs and A&E. According to our audit, use of NHS website and NHS 111 phone service is increasing year on year, but people often feel overwhelmed by the amount of content available online and don’t always know which sources are trustworthy. We also found a postcode lottery when it came to self-care information available at a local level, with ICB websites differing in level of detail provided. Being able to access quality health information shouldn’t depend on where you live.
“We need to see the UK Government put in place the recommendations outlined in our audit, including reinstating a library of trusted health apps, so people can be reassured that they are accessing reliable, accurate and useful information. With winter approaching and more industrial action planned, it’s never been more important to give the public the tools they need to self-care for common treatable conditions such as coughs and colds.”
The audit is accompanied by best practice case studies leading the way in digital health interventions:
Liz Ashall-Payne, CEO, ORCHA, said:
“Health apps can help take significant pressure off the NHS, helping people to better self-care; and 68% of the public want the NHS to recommend them[viii]. But whilst there are great, clinically effective apps, 80% in app stores do not meet standards[ix]. The infrastructure to connect the right app, with the right person, at the right time, can transform how we look after our own health and the health of our NHS system.”
Matteo Berlucchi, CEO and Co-founder at Healthily commented:
“Finding the right information online is incredibly difficult for people who are wondering if they need to speak to a doctor or if self-care is appropriate. While AI can’t and shouldn’t replace a doctor, symptom checkers can be incredibly effective at recommending the most probable next steps thus lowering the burden on the overstretched healthcare service.”
[i] NHSE data sets: NHS 111 Integrated Urgent Care Aggregated Data Collection (IUC ADC), NHS 111 Minimum Data Set and NHS 111 online usage data (not publicly available, obtained via a written parliament question accessible on the UK Parliament Hansard website). Government and parliamentary documents: Department for Health and Social Care (2022) A plan for digital health and social care and House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee Expert Panel (2023) Evaluation of government commitments made on the digitisation of the NHS
[ii] Health and Social Care Committee (2023) Evaluation of Government commitments made on the digitisation of the NHS – Fourth special report of session 2022-2023, accessed 5 September 2023.
iv NHS Digital (2022) 1.2 billion visits to the NHS website in the last 12 months, accessed 5 September 2023
v NHS England (2021) NHS 111 Minimum Data Set time series to March 2021, accessed 5 September 2023
vi NHS England (2023) Integrated Urgent Care Aggregate Data Collection (IUCADC including NHS 111) Data and KPI Time series to March 2023, accessed 5 September 2023
[ix] ORCHA, 2023, Digital Health in the UK – National attitudes and behaviour research 2023, accessed 7 September 2023