Demand for digital health products soared during the pandemic as patients looked to manage their own care – and interest remains strong in post-lockdown Britain, new research has revealed. 

Led by the head of research at the Organisation for the Review of Health and Care Applications (ORCHA), the research found a significant increase in online searches for digital health products during the Covid pandemic.

Analysing two years of retrospective data (Jan 19 – Dec 20) from ORCHA’s digital health libraries, it revealed a 343% increase in searches for digital health products. Pre-pandemic, it noted an average of 2,446 searches per month, which rocketed to an average of 8,996 per month in the nine-month period following the first national lockdown.

Published by the BMJ Open, the first-of-its-kind health paper found that 92% of medical condition areas experienced an increase. Musculoskeletal and physiotherapy saw an 2,036% increase, followed by allergy (1,253%) and fitness/diet (1,051%).

Simon Leigh, head of research at ORCHA, said: “We set out to explore whether demand for digital health products changed following the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures… it did.

“And these increases weren’t a flash in the pan at the start of lockdown – they were sustained in the nine months following the first lockdown, with 84% of condition areas still experiencing demand at least 50% greater than pre-lockdown levels.”

The study uncovered the public’s growing demand for digital health products, which researchers theorise was a direct result of the pressures put on the routine delivery of healthcare during the pandemic.

The finding is also particularly timely as discussion around a return to face-to-face GP appointments continues. Data from NHS Digital shows that a return to in-person appointments has yet to truly take hold and numbers still fall far below the pre-pandemic levels. A poll, also from ORCHA, found there was a clear appetite for digital health tools with 65% of people saying they were willing to try them.

Leigh, added: “When we’re questioning whether GPs should revert to face-to-face appointments, perhaps we should reflect on the massive success of tele-health during Covid-19. Whilst a video or telephone call won’t work for everyone, for many patients it works brilliantly.

“This could be the start of an increased acceptance of a whole new generation of medical technology and we should be encouraging GPs to use a range of approaches, including digital health products, to match the needs of patients and provide the choice they are wanting.”

The success of the many telehealth solutions launched as a result of the pandemic, combined with the public’s willingness to access digital tools to manage their own health would be a significant boost to the NHS’s digital transformation plans. It also marks a major breakthrough in the way people access healthcare solutions and the way healthcare professionals deliver it.