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Digital technology informing our health; Digital technology has become an integral part of our everyday lives. Here Dr Alisha Davies, from Public Health Wales, explores how the Welsh population is using it to improve their health...

Byline: Dr Alisha Davies

We live in a digital age, with technology increasingly informing every area of our lives.

It has changed how we shop, how we communicate, how we stay in touch with our friends and family, even our own sense of community and identity.

Technology has big implications for our health too, offering both opportunities and challenges.

That is why it is important that we look to the future as we plan our approach to improving health and wellbeing in Wales, because technology can help us to predict, prevent and treat ill-health.

To help us plan ahead, our team at Public Health Wales recently conducted a survey looking at how people are using technology to improve and monitor their health.

We wanted to find out not only how people in Wales are using technology, but also who is using it.

Our survey is the first nationally representative analysis exploring how adults in Wales are embracing technology to support their health, and which looks at differences between groups.

We found that people are using technology, such as wearable stepcounters, to monitor their steps (28%).

They are using apps to track health goals - for example how far they run when exercising - or how many calories they consume when they eat (21% track their nutrition or food intake).

Some are using the internet to look up symptoms (34%), to find out about local health services (53%), or for information on how to improve their lifestyle.

Yet while the majority of us are increasingly going online and using technology to make decisions about how to stay well, our survey found there are many of us who do not.

Those who do not use technology to support their health tend to be more men than women, tend to be older, and tend to live in less affluent areas of Wales.

Also people who undertake more health harming behaviours - including smoking, drinking too much alcohol, or being physically inactive - are less likely to use technology to support their health.

So why is this? Some of the underlying reasons for these differences include access to the internet, the availability of internet-enabled devices like mobile phones and computers, low levels of digital skills/literacy and, for some, an underlying lack of interest and mistrust.

This poses a real challenge for health services and others in Wales.

How do we embrace the opportunities technology offers without leaving some people behind? Well, the first thing we need to do is to better understand and address barriers to those who engage with technology, and to learn from what motivates some, and not others, to engage in health-related activities through technology.

We also need to think about how to best support people to consider the reliability of the sources of information if they are using non-NHS websites, and to better understand what technology is effective.

We also need to make sure that we develop technologies in the way that people want them.

It is no longer good enough to put information on a website and hope for the best.

We need to talk to people about how they want digital services to support them, using behavioural scince and user experience approaches to help us.

Digital technology develops rapidly, so we need to be bold, embrace innovation, test and learn and be agile to maximise opportunities.

We need to make sure that programmes are in place to improve digital literacy and access to digital technology, targeted at the groups who need them most, such as older people.

Programmes like Digital Communities Wales are already doing great work in this area.

Technology is not the solution for all. But if we can look to the future, plan ahead, and speak to people in Wales about how they want to use technology to improve their health, the technological revolution could be a good thing for health and wellbeing in Wales.

Digital technology develops rapidly, so we need to be bold, embrace innovation, test and learn and be agile to maximise opportunities.


<B Infographics taken from the Population Health in a Digital Age report by Public Health Wales and Bangor University

The survey found that people are using technology, such as wearable step-counters, to monitor their steps (28%)
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 24, 2019
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