A three-year digital health project has saved the NHS millions of pounds by helping vulnerable people to get online and access healthcare services.
The Widening Digital Participation programme, run by digital inclusion charity Tinder Foundation and NHS England, improves people’s health and wellbeing and cuts down on GP and A&E visits.
So far the programme has helped more than 220,000 participants, with 82% of those trained experiencing at least one form of social exclusion including unemployment, disability and homelessness.
More than half (59%) of those surveyed after taking part felt more confident about using online tools to manage their health, 65% felt more informed and 62% said they felt happier as a result of social contact.
Looking at the impact on health services, the participants are now more likely to use the internet as their first port of call for information. One in five (21%) learners made fewer calls or visits to their GP, 10% made fewer calls to NHS 111, and 6% made fewer visits to A&E.
This behaviour change is estimated to have saved the NHS £6m in avoided GP and A&E visits in just 12 months.
Tinder Foundation pointed out that searching online for information on symptoms and medications, and using digital health tools such as apps, helps patients to take a more active role in monitoring and self-managing their condition.
However, more people need support and training if they are to benefit from digital health.
There are currently 12.6 million people living in the UK who lack the digital skills to use the internet in this way. These people tend to be older and more likely to be in poverty with high health and social care needs, the charity said.
Life Sciences Minister George Freeman welcomed the success of the project, commenting: “Widening Digital Participation is empowering more patients to take control of their own healthcare needs. By giving the most vulnerable people in our society the confidence to use technology and online tools we are helping to save money and reducing pressures on GP and A&E services.”