Web-based internet searches for digital health products in the United Kingdom before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: a time-series analysis using app libraries from the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Applications (ORCHA)

BMJ Open. 2021 Oct 11;11(10):e053891. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2021-053891.

Abstract

Objectives: To explore if consumer interest in digital health products (DHPs), changed following the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures that ensued.

Design: Retrospective time-series analysis of web-based internet searches for DHPs in the UK, split over two periods, pre-COVID-19 lockdown (January 2019-23 March 2020) and post-COVID-19 lockdown (24 March 2020-31 December 2020).

Setting: The UK.

Participants: Members of the UK general population using health-app libraries provided by the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Applications.

Primary and secondary outcome measures: The primary outcome was volume of searches for DHPs. Secondary outcomes considered search volumes for 25 different therapeutic areas. Outcomes were assessed for significance using a two-stage Poisson test.

Results: There were 126 640 searches for DHPs over the study period. Searches for DHPs increased by 343% from 2446 per month prior to COVID-19 lockdown measures being introduced to 8996 per month in the period following the first COVID-19 lockdown in the UK. In total, 23/25 (92%) of condition areas experienced a significant increase in searches for DHPs, with the greatest increases occurring in the first 2 months following lockdown. Musculoskeletal conditions (2.036%), allergy (1.253%) and healthy living DHPs (1.051%) experienced the greatest increases in searches compared with pre-lockdown. Increased search volumes for DHPs were sustained in the 9 months following the introduction of lockdown measures, with 21/25 (84%) of condition areas experiencing monthly search volumes at least 50% greater than pre-lockdown levels.

Conclusions: The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly disrupted the routine delivery of healthcare, making face-to-face interaction difficult, and contributing to unmet clinical needs. This study has demonstrated significant increases in internet searches for DHPs by members of the UK population since COVID-19, signifying an increased interest in this potential therapeutic medium. Future research should clarify whether this increased interest has resulted in increased acceptance and utilisation of these technologies also.

Keywords: COVID-19; primary care; telemedicine.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Pandemics
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology