Online searches for digital health products in the UK increased 343% in the first lockdown, according to a new public health study.
Research scientists led by Simon Leigh, head of research at the Organization for the Review of Health and Care Applications (ORCHA) examined internet searches of digital health products on the web before and during the pandemic of COVID-19.
The study, published by BMJ Open, shows that pressures on routine healthcare delivery during the pandemic are leading to “significant increases” in searches for digital health products.
Looking at two years of data collected from January 2019 to December 2020, the team found that searches for musculoskeletal products and physiotherapy saw the most significant increase during lockdown with a 2,036% increase.
Searches for digital health products to fight allergies increased by 1253%, while searches for healthy lifestyle apps increased by 1051%.
In total, 92% of medical problem areas have seen an increase in searches, with the largest increases occurring in the first two months after the lockdown.
The study participants were members of the general UK population using the health app libraries provided by ORCHA.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT
The researchers concluded that the pandemic’s disruption to routine healthcare delivery has contributed to unmet clinical needs and increased interest in potential therapeutic support for digital health products.
They added that future research should determine whether this increased interest has also led to increased acceptance and use of the technologies.
THE BROADER CONTEXT
Earlier this year, ORCHA published research documenting a digital health ‘explosion’ since COVID-19, with health app downloads increasing from four to five million per day.
In 2021, the organization partnered with organizations such as the Osteopathic Health Center in Dubai and seven Integrated Care Systems (ICS) in the South West of England to provide citizens with access to its digital health libraries. .
ORCHA COO Tim Andrews recently spoke to MobiHealthNews on the challenges of digital health assessment. The organization rates healthcare applications against 350 usability, safety and quality metrics.
ON THE RECORD
Simon Leigh said, “We are in the process of determining whether the demand for digital health products has changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures… it has! And those increases weren’t a flash in the pan when the lockdown began – they held up for the nine months after the first lockdown, with 84% of condition areas still seeing demand at least 50% above the levels of before locking.
“When we consider whether GPs should return to face-to-face appointments, perhaps we should reflect on the massive success of telehealth during COVID-19. While a video or phone call won’t work for everyone, for many patients it works wonders. This could be the start of increased acceptance of a whole new generation of medical technology, and we should encourage general practitioners to use a range of approaches, including digital health products, to meet the needs of patients and give them the choice they want. “