New study by WHO/Europe finds that digital health is not accessible by everyone equally

30 January 2023

WHO/Europe’s new study finds that persistent differences in access to, use of and engagement with digital health technologies exist across all communities and areas in Europe. The study underlines that people with poor health outcomes are the most negatively impacted by inequalities in access, struggling to avail themselves of the necessary digital health tools.

“These findings are important, because they send a warning signal. Although we know that digital tools can go a long way in improving people’s access to health and health workers’ ability to care for people, we are now finding that the tools are not available to everyone equally, especially to people with underlying health conditions,” says Dr David Novillo-Ortiz, Regional Adviser on Data and Digital Health at WHO/Europe.

For people living with diabetes (PwD), achieving the best possible health outcomes and enjoying the highest possible quality of life is to, a big extent, contingent upon their ability to access digital health tools and technologies on an uninterrupted basis. Real time continuous glucose monitoring systems (CGMs), and more recently intermittently scanned CGMs, for example, are helping to maintain blood sugar levels in range and prevent dangerous hypoglycaemic events. New insulin delivery systems, such as connected pens, help keep track of the insulin amount injected throughout the day. While providing reliable disease information, digital health tools and technologies also have the potential to improve interactions between patients and healthcare professionals and enable patients to receive effective education at a low cost, regardless of time and location.

The price to pay for not having access to these tools is potentially very high – sub-optimal blood glucose levels can lead to life-disabling complications such as blindness and amputations, cardio-vascular and renal disease, and put a strain on the ability of health systems to provide optimal care for everyone. Therefore, increased quality, availability, and accessibility of digital tools to improve self-management for PwD will help them stay healthy and away from the health systems, overall reducing health expenditure while extending and improving care.

In this context, we welcome WHO/Europe’s call to embed equity into the development and integration of digital technology in health and call on governments to develop effective solutions to monitor and evaluate digital health policies and interventions that leave no one behind.