We have all spent more time behind the webcam in the last two years than ever before. The Corona pandemic has drastically changed the way we work, communicate and consume. Imagine what the world would be like without the internet and technology during this period. Society would have stalled. Also in health care, the Internet and technology were often used to keep health care accessible to those who were unable to attend a physical visit. The use of technology in healthcare is also known as e-Health or digital healthcare. Especially for COVID-19 risk groups, e-Health offered a solution. For example, by video calling the healthcare provider or sending blood pressure values via the Internet.
Yet the lack of digital skills among a large group of people is alarming. Research shows that no less than two million Dutch people are not digitally proficient. It not only concerns the elderly, many young people also have difficulty using technology. E-health can reduce the pressure on care, improve the quality of care and reduce costs. Therefore, it will be used more and more in the coming decades. But if only people with digital skills can benefit from optimal digital care, the health of the digitally illiterate will ultimately lag behind. It is therefore important to find ways in which everyone can benefit from optimal care.
Fewer unnecessary consultations with digital care
There are various forms of e-health, including telemonitoring, self-management apps, disease information websites or video calls. A good example is the Dutch website Thuisarts.nl, which has been developed by Dutch general practitioners and which provides reliable and up-to-date information to the public about health and illness.
Research has shown that this application reduces unnecessary medical appointments by advising when people should or should not go to the doctor. Telemonitoring involves measuring data in the patient’s home. This data is then sent to the healthcare provider via the Internet. This can lead to better care because the nursing staff can tailor the treatment exactly to how the patient is feeling at the moment.
In the past, consultations were often scheduled after a certain period of time by default, but this was not always when the patient also had complaints. By using telemonitoring, the health nurse can plan a time when the patient is not feeling well, as shown by the measurements. In addition, telemonitoring saves the patient and caregivers time because fewer consultations are required.
Politicians, including the European Commission, consider e-health to be an important priority in healthcare. But we are not aware enough that millions of people can not take advantage of these technological innovations because they do not have the skills to use them.
Narrowing of the digital divide
Although digital illiteracy is common among the elderly (> 65 years), low-skilled and ethnic minorities, it certainly also occurs among the younger and higher educated. In the Netherlands, for example, 11 percent of all adults under the age of 65 have poor digital skills. It is therefore important to invest in this now to prevent health problems in the future.
There is a lot to be gained by not only focusing on the elderly when it comes to improving digital skills, but looking at the population as a whole. Little is known about the underlying barriers for the digitally illiterate to the use of e-health. The reason for this is that this group is often not included in scientific studies. Moreover, most e-health surveys on this topic have been conducted in the United States, and the results may not necessarily be generalized to the European situation.
It is important to find tailor-made solutions that enable every citizen to benefit from optimal care. The growing health gap between digital readers and illiterates needs to be closed. After all, access to healthcare is a human right, even for those who are not digitally skilled.