Skip to content

Why Digital Inclusion Matters to Health & Social Care

Ensuring that everyone has access to digital tools and services can significantly improve physical and mental well-being, self-care, long-term condition management and the use of urgent care services. The critical importance of digital inclusion in enhancing health and social care is recognised by the NHS as a vital step forward in the UK’s healthcare system.

Why Digital Inclusion Matters

Digital inclusion helps address health inequalities by providing better access to online health resources and services. Those who are digitally excluded often face worse health outcomes and limited access to care. Key priorities include empowering individuals, supporting prevention and facilitating shared decision-making.

Benefits & Return on Investment

Investing in digital inclusion not only benefits individuals but also offers a substantial return on investment for the NHS. For instance, the Widening Digital Participation programme revealed that 59% of participants felt more confident using online health information and 21% had fewer GP visits for minor ailments. This evaluation estimates a return on investment of £6.40 for every £1.00 spent by the NHS on digital inclusion support.

Further benefits included:

  • 52% feel less lonely or isolated
  • 22% have progressed to booking GP appointments online and 20% to ordering prescriptions online
  • 39% have saved time by carrying out health transactions online

The benefits for health and care providers include:

  • Lower cost of delivering services digitally
  • More appropriate use of services, including primary care and urgent care
  • Better patient adherence to medicines and treatments

Addressing Health Inequalities

Digital exclusion often correlates with social disadvantages such as lower income, lower levels of education and poor housing. The NHS aims to reduce these inequalities by ensuring digital tools are accessible to everyone, including those with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. Policies and local digital roadmaps emphasise the need for inclusive digital services.

The NHS long term plan makes a commitment to a more concerted and systematic approach to reducing health inequalities and addressing unwarranted variation in care.

Societal Impact

Beyond individual benefits, digital inclusion has broader societal impacts, including reduced social isolation, improved self-management of health and more efficient use of healthcare resources. According to a BT report, getting online is valued at £1,064 per year per individual, highlighting the significant social return on investment. The return on return in investment of getting online is due to increased confidence, less social isolation, financial savings and opportunities in employment and leisure. For workers, getting online is worth £3,568 a year due to opportunities for remote working and increased earnings opportunities.

A 2016 analysis of Scottish data carried out by Ipsos MORI for Carnegie UK Trust found that those who use the internet are more likely to have been to a cultural event, visited the outdoors for recreation, taken part in a sport or volunteered. On the other hand, those who are not online are more likely to have visited their doctor once a month or more.

Digital inclusion is vital for transforming health and social care in the UK. By bridging the digital divide, the NHS can improve health outcomes, reduce inequalities and ensure that all individuals can benefit from digital advancements in healthcare.

Key Digital is empowering NHS organisations to secure funding for digital transformation and Lloyd George digitisation projects – find out more here.