Digital health inequality, observed as differential utilisation of digital tools between population groups, has not previously been quantified in the National Health Service (NHS). Deployment of universal digital health interventions, including a national smartphone app and online primary care services, allows measurement of digital inequality across a nation. We aimed to measure population factors associated with digital utilisation across 6356 primary care providers serving the population of England.
We used multivariable regression to test association of population and provider characteristics (including patient demographics, socioeconomic deprivation, disease burden, prescribing burden, geography and healthcare provider resource) with activation of two independent digital services during 2021/2022.
We find a significant adjusted association between increased population deprivation and reduced digital utilisation across both interventions. Multivariable regression coefficients for most deprived quintiles correspond to 4.27 million patients across England where deprivation is associated with non-activation of the NHS App.
Results are concerning for technologically driven widening of healthcare inequalities. Targeted incentive to digital is necessary to prevent digital disparity from becoming health outcomes disparity.