Digitalisation of social and health care services can increase inequalities – requires investments in skills and easy-to-use services

Those who are in a disadvantaged position due to their finances, health or social standing feel that they benefit the least from electronic health services, demonstrates a recent study by the DigiIN project.

For example, few benefits from electronic services are reported by individuals who have had to compromise on food, medicines or doctors’ appointments. Respondents’ poor health and minimal social contacts were also related to experiences of fewer benefits from digital services.

“In other words, the risk of being excluded from services and the deterioration of welfare is particularly high for groups already in a vulnerable position. Based on these research results, digital services becoming more common may amplify existing inequality related to social standing and health”, says Research Professor Tarja Heponiemi.

In addition, elderly people, those with a low level of education and people living in the countryside also felt that the benefits were limited, but this was partly explained by differences in the availability of electronic services, the skills required to use them and the extent of their use.

Digital competence must be ensured for those at risk of exclusion

In the study, users’ digital competence emerged as the most important factor explaining the benefits of electronic services. Other central factors for increased experienced benefit were the availability of services and the extent of the use of digital services.

In addition to clear and easy-to-use systems, the seamless use of digital services requires that clients have sufficient technical skills. In this case, using services does not take too much time, and services are more likely to be beneficial.

“Digital solutions can help promote health and reduce problems related to social exclusion. But it requires that clients and patients feel that the services are useful. Based on our results, it would now be important to invest in improving digital skills, especially in groups at risk of digital exclusion”, says Heponiemi.

Source: Digital Divide in Perceived Benefits of Online Health Care and Social Welfare Services: National Cross-Sectional Survey Study