Digitalisation of Health Care Services

Full title: Digitalisation of health and social care services for older adults: what can we learn from the COVID-19 pandemic?

For at least a decade, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been encouraging use of digital technology to improve health and social care services.

There is a growing role for digital technologies in society, but concerns that older adults are being disadvantaged and excluded with the growth of use of these technologies.

The COVID-19 pandemic led the UK government to mandate lockdowns and social restrictions. This was accompanied by rapid implementation of many digital services both in the UK and internationally.

We aim to produce an initial piece of work: a scoping review to identify what we can learn from the recent at pace innovations in UK. This will be a first step to a longer-term ambition to advance our understanding of how health and care services have been digitalised, and the policy implications of this change.


  • To advance our understanding of how health and care services have been digitalised during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • To learn what has worked well and what has not, with a specific lens on the digital divide and health inequalities.
  • To provide evidence for future policymaking.

Research methods

Initial mapping review

An initial review will be used to map the extent and quality of published literature around digitalised services during the pandemic, and guide subsequent stages of the work by highlighting the areas to focus on.

Objectives and review questions

This review aims to map the evidence on the impact of digitalisation of health and social care services for older adults since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2020. To meet these aims the review will initially answer the following question:

1. What types of evidence are available / currently being sought on the digitalisation of health and social care services/digital delivery of interventions or practice for older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic?

This will allow us to map an overview of the current evidence and guide development of a subsequent deeper evidence synthesis to answer a second set of questions, if appropriate:

2. What are the outcomes and impacts for older adults of digitalisation of health and care services/digital delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic? What barriers, facilitators, and limitations regarding digitalisation of these services/digital delivery for older adults have been identified? What (if any) theoretical interpretations are there of these barriers, facilitators, or limitations?

Evidence will be sought from: 

  1. Evidence reviews (both systematic and narrative; published or in progress)
  2. Primary studies (quantitative and qualitative; published or in progress)
  3. Grey literature

Initial sense-checking on the review will be done by consulting our public and patient involvement (PPI) panels and DHSC stakeholders.

Based on findings from this review, we will more fully develop the work described below in conjunction with DHSC colleagues and other stakeholders.

Future work

This will be agreed following completion of the review, but may include:

  • mapping digital provision of innovations, and identifying good practice;
  • views of older people;
  • quantitative analysis of digitalisation of GP services and health inequalities.

Policy relevance

The review will consider how digitalisation of services has progressed and the evidence base upon which such digitalisation has been based.

This review will inform development of policy and practice for the digitalisation of health and care services.

Potential future work would permit identification of good practice (what works), the views of older people, how digitalisation relates to health inequalities (does it exacerbate them or can it mitigate them?), and vital information for policymakers regarding digitalisation of services.

Delivery timeline

Review stage: July 2022


Newcastle University logo

The University of Manchester logo