A poll has revealed the public are willing to embrace digital health technologies in order to help the NHS, both in the long term and during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Commissioned by ORCHA, the poll of 2,000 people found there was a clear appetite from the public for digital health tools with 65% saying they were open to using digital healthcare tools. Despite this, only 38% claimed to have used them previously – highlighting a gap between what could be achieved and where we are now.

In the UK in 2020, there was a 50% year-on-year increase in the download of medical health apps. ORCHA’s research found that patients were most likely to use such apps to track and monitor symptoms; support lifestyle changes such as smoking or diet; self educate on conditions prior to a GP’s appointment; be alert to potential conditions; and to boost recovery following surgery, such as with physio programmes.

The research highlighted that healthcare professionals are key to encouraging a higher uptake of digital tech for patients. Across all age groups people stated they were more satisfied with digital health if it came recommended by a health professional. Yet just half of the respondents who used health apps said they had been recommended them by a health worker.

Getting the stamp of approval from a healthcare professional could considerably increase the take-up of healthcare apps, yet it remains to be seen if all apps present a safe choice. ORCHA tested nearly 9,000 digital health products from app stores, yet found only 20% met quality thresholds across 350+ clinical evidence, data security and useability measures.

Dr Lloyd Humphreys, managing director of ORCHA, said: “This involvement by NHS staff is important, as in an unregulated market it is important that digital health choices are being made safely, with professional recommendations.

“More broadly, using health apps is only part of the answer to our future healthcare, but there’s increasing evidence that the more we citizens embrace technology and the self-management of our health, the more we will help ourselves and our NHS.”

The NHS Long Term Plan has set out national targets for digital health, which have been supported by national standards within the NHS Digital Technology Assessment Criteria (DTAC). Off the back of the report ORCHA has made a recommendation that NHS staff ensure recommended products meet advisory frameworks for assessments, such as the DTAC.