Government: 75% of adults to be using NHS App by March 2024. But how is the nation responding to this health revolution at our fingertips?

As the government sets ambitious targets for the use of the NHS App, independent research into the nation’s use of health apps asks, for the first time, whether health apps are actually helping us self-manage our health – and the result is ‘striking’.

The research was carried out with 2000 consumers during May on behalf of ORCHA, the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps, which reviews digital health products for many areas of the NHS.

The respondents talked about their use of all health apps, not just the NHS App.

The research revealed:

Health apps get results: Eighty-three per cent of people surveyed who have used a health app found it actively helped to improve their health and wellbeing, with 35% of those finding it very helpful. Plus, after downloading the product, 75% of respondents had used it weekly or more often, with almost half of this group using it multiple times a day.

Simon Leigh, Head of Research at ORCHA, said:

“These figures are striking and this feels like a pivotal moment, as digital health represents a massive opportunity to both improve patient outcomes alleviate some of the burden on the NHS.”

Growth: Overall, the research found that more people are using health apps than in 2021 (47% in 2022 as opposed to 38% last year). Sixty-two per cent agree that it is vital we look at new ways to manage our health, including using high-quality health apps. Fifty-five per cent had had an app recommended by a health or care professional and the most active recommenders had been GPs and pharmacists (in 11% and 10% of cases respectively).

Simon Leigh said:

“Despite all this good news, still, only around half our respondents had digital health from a healthcare professional, leaving the rest in the hands of Google and friends. We wouldn’t do that with medicines or any other aspect of healthcare – it’s a huge risk. Only around 20% of the many thousands of health apps we review here at ORCHA meet our quality standards, demonstrating they are clinically backed and safe with patient data.”

A step change in mental health support: Those aged from 18 to 44 would choose digital health to support a mental health condition over and above prescription medication, such as an antidepressant. And 55% per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds would opt for a mental health app recommendation, with only 39% preferring medication. Fifty-three per cent would even choose a health app in preference to one-to-one therapy via a video link or telephone call.

Meanwhile, opportunities for improvement include:

Levelling up: There are marked differences between regions. Supported by tech-savvy doctors and nurses, Londoners, in particular, are trailblazers of this new approach to self-managing their health. In the Capital, 21% of those surveyed had been recommended an app by a healthcare professional. Nearly seven in ten respondents (68%) had used a digital health product and the same percentage were positive advocates (68%). In East Anglia, where levels of recommendations by doctors were the nation’s lowest, at 9%, only 35% had used an app at all. Fifty one per cent of East Anglia respondents, though, said they were open to using apps as a new approach to healthcare.

Liz Ashall-Payne, founding CEO of ORCHA, which is based in the North West, said:

“We have to level up with digital health, providing nationwide tools and training for all frontline NHS staff so they know how to recommend the best products, or we’ll have pockets across the UK where citizens are disenfranchised from this revolution in healthcare. Earlier this year, ORCHA launched a free, nationwide and CPD-accredited Digital Health Academy for all frontline NHS staff, to help tackle the knowledge gap in digital health.”

Focusing on women’s health: Healthcare professionals had recommended digital health support to 29% of men but only 19% of women. But women, more than men, said they would actively have chosen digital support, particularly for mental health conditions such as anxiety, because they were immediate (39%) and flexible (34%) around jobs and healthcare.

Supporting older people: As seen in 2021, age significantly affects the odds of using a health app. 18-24-year-olds are the most activated at 82% having used a health app. This decreases gradually as age increases, at 34% for ages 45-54, then reaching its lowest point in the 55-64 age group, where just 20% of people surveyed have used a health app before. Interestingly, the over 65 age group is more activated than the groups spanning 45-64, with 42% of people having used digital health. Of the over 65s that have used health apps, 39% of them use their app daily or more often, which is higher than all other age groups.

Commenting on the report overall, Simon Leigh said:

“Whilst digital health in the NHS is improving, much more can be done to bridge the digital divide, to remove the digital postcode lottery, to tackle prejudices that older adults won’t want digital support and to overcome any gender bias.”

Access the full report, Digital Health in the UK: National attitudes and behaviour research, here: