Poor broadband provision is associated with people living with a number of health conditions and urgent care needs, a study published 2 November 2022 has found.
First study of its kind
This whole local population level observational study is the first to link data on broadband provision with health data at a defined health economy population level. It used data for all residents of the City of Wolverhampton, some 269,785 people.
The study, published in BMJ Open, was conducted as part of the Wolverhampton Digital Enablement (WODEN) Programme – a multi-agency collaborative approach to determine and address digital factors that may impact on health and social care in a single deprived multi ethnic health economy. The study aimed to determine the association between measurable broadband provision and demographic and health outcomes in a defined population.
Study author Dr Fraser Philp, Lecturer in Physiotherapy at the University of Liverpool said: “It is essential that healthcare authorities avoid widening historical, present and future societal health inequalities, as digital solutions become increasingly embedded in healthcare. Identifying appropriate measures for evaluating broadband provision, which ultimately influence access, is an important part of this.”
Broadband provision was measured using the Broadband Infrastructure Index (BII) in 158 City localities housing a total of 269,785 residents. Lower broadband provision as determined by BII was associated with the following attributes: younger age, white ethnic status, lesser deprivation as measured by the Index of Multiple Deprivation, a higher number of health comorbidities and more non-elective urgent events over 12 months.
Corresponding author Professor Baldev Singh MD FRCP, Consultant Physician and Clinical Director of Information Services, The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust said: “Health and Care systems have an ethical obligation to provide equitable care. The rapid developing technology driven changes in such services open access to better care to so many. However, we need to remember that some people, for many differing reasons, are disenfranchised and so become excluded by such developments. The WODEN project is a multi-agency project in Wolverhampton that will work to better understand the risk of digital exclusion and strive to prevent it.”
Recommendations for health authorities
The WODEN team has advised local municipal and health authorities to consider the variations in broadband provision within their locality and determine equal distribution on a geographical basis but also against demographic, health and social data to determine equitable distribution as a platform for equitable access to digital resources for their residents.
The study was conducted by researchers at The University of Liverpool, The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, The University of Wolverhampton, Keele University and Bournemouth University.