In collaboration with YouGov

Patient perception of remote, digital NHS healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic

Summary

During the early spring of 2020, the use of remote healthcare services in the UK saw a dramatic increase in usage.

Problem

During the early spring of 2020, the use of remote healthcare services in the UK saw a dramatic increase in usage as services transitioned away from face-to-face delivery due to the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Healthcare pathways were effectively 'switched off' for people who were confined to their homes without the confidence, skills or set-up to effectively access public services such as NHS care online or remotely.

Without rapid understanding of the situation at the height of lockdown, it would have been very difficult to start to target methodologies and interventions at the problem.

Solution

In collaboration with YouGov we designed a survey that tested the capability, opportunity and motivation of a representative sample of the UK population sample size >2000.

Patient preference for using digital, remote healthcare comes with a series of caveats that practitioners and commissioners should be aware of as the active engagement of patients in remote working appears to be more complex than simple measures of technical ability.

Our research indicates issues around willingness, trust, user-preference and more basic behavioural traits that may not have been factored in to the delivery of digital care before. In short, capacity to act is not well equated to willingness or free will of individuals, least of all, acceptance of digital, remote healthcare in any universal form.

Our work highlighted the need for a psychological understanding of the frictions and enablers to remote healthcare, rather than a more narrow assessment of technical capacity if we are to drive behaviour change and help shape effective policy. This approach is now being used to address digital inclusion challenges around the country.

We subsequently saw a large drop in attendance at GP surgeries and an apparent fall in the number of new cancer diagnoses which suggests that people were unable to access primary care either through fear or an inability to access services effectively. The findings provide a unique baseline dataset taken at a moment in history, the height of the first Covid-19 lockdown, that will assist researchers and policy makers in strategising in the realm of inclusivity of access to online services for many years to come.