People living with a number of health conditions and urgent care needs often have poor broadband provision, a new study has found, which could impact the quality and availability of care that they are able to receive.
Researchers at Keele University collaborated with colleagues across the country to link data on broadband provision – the broadband services people have access to from their home - with health data for all residents in Wolverhampton, totalling almost 270,000 people.
The rapid integration of digital technology into the delivery of healthcare has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, including face-to-face consultations between patients and healthcare providers. However, access to equipment, broadband connectivity and internet access, including levels of digital literacy, can impact on people’s access to healthcare via digital channels.
The study, published in BMJ Open, was conducted as part of the Wolverhampton Digital Enablement (WODEN) Programme – a multi-agency collaborative approach to determine and address digital factors that may impact on health and social care in a single deprived multi-ethnic health economy. The study examined the link between measurable broadband provision, and demographic and health outcomes in a defined population.
Lower broadband provision was associated with populations of younger age, white ethnic status, lesser deprivation as measured by the Index of Multiple Deprivation, and a higher number of people with more than one disease or condition and more emergency surgery or admissions over 12 months.
Dr Emma Parry, NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer at Keele University, said: "We’re committed to working collaboratively with partners to reduce health inequalities and expand research in public health. Following this study, the WODEN team has advised local municipal and health authorities to consider variations in broadband provision in addition to demographic, health and social data when considering equitable access to digital resources for their residents.
"Moving forward, the team will continue to evaluate the ways that health services are developed or adapted to work to ensure that people are able to access healthcare according to their needs and abilities."
The study was conducted by researchers at Keele, the University of Liverpool, The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, The University of Wolverhampton and Bournemouth University.