We live in a digital age. Technology is transforming the way we live our lives, engage with each other, our communities and our health. Today, digital technology offers both opportunities and challenges to population health, and looking to the future will be at the heart of Public Health Wales’ approach to improving health and wellbeing, helping us to predict, prevent and treat ill-health.
Yet, whilst the majority of us are increasingly going online, there are many who do not. Some of the underlying reasons for differences in engagement with digital technology include inequalities in internet connectivity, access to internet-enabled devices (e.g. mobile phones, computers), low levels of digital literacy and, for some, an underlying lack of interest and trust.
This raises an important question of equity in health in a digital age. How can we innovate through digital technology and transform population health, whilst leaving no-one behind? To address this we need to better understand who engages with digital technologies, and how do people use it to support their health. An understanding of social differences will help us to maximise the benefits of digital technology for health, whilst being mindful to prevent against inadvertently increasing health inequalities.
In Wales, we have carried out this first nationally representative survey exploring social patterns in engagement with digital technologies for health purposes. This is a timely report for us providing valuable insights to inform our work, and that of others, to support the digital transformation of health in Wales and further afield.
The findings also support the need for continued development of evidence-based digital health technologies, underpinned by behavioural insights, to understand why and how people engage and to help us understand the positive and negative impact on health.
Finally, a key challenge is the pace of change. Digital technology develops rapidly, and we need to be bold, embrace innovation, test and learn and be agile to maximise opportunities. Digital technology has the potential to revolutionise health within a generation, but as the findings in this report demonstrate, that will only be possible if we understand and consider social patterns in access and engagement.