Impact of COVID-19 on the digital divide: A rapid review

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The increased reliance on digital technologies to deliver healthcare as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant pre-existing disparities in digital access and utilisation of healthcare might be exacerbated in disadvantaged patient populations. The aim of this rapid review was to identify how this ‘digital divide’ was manifest during the first wave of the pandemic and highlight any areas which might be usefully addressed for the remainder of the pandemic and beyond.

Rapid review and narrative synthesis.

Data sources
The major medical databases including PubMed and Embase and Google Scholar were searched alongside a hand search of bibliographies.

Eligibility criteria
Original research papers available in English which described studies conducted during wave 1 of the COVID pandemic and reported between 1 March 2020 and 31 July 2021.

The search was described using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses and identified nine studies. The results are presented within a refined framework describing the three key domains of the digital divide: (1) digital access, within which one study described continuing issues with internet connectivity among vulnerable patients in the UK; (2) digital literacy, where seven studies described how ethnic minorities and the elderly were less likely to use digital technologies in accessing care; (3) digital assimilation, where one study described how video technologies can reduce feelings of isolation and another how elderly black males were the most likely group to share information about COVID-19 on social media platforms.

During the early phase of the pandemic in the developed world, familiar difficulties in utilisation of digital healthcare among the elderly and ethnic minorities continued to be observed. This is a further reminder that the digital divide is a persistent challenge that needs to be urgently addressed when considering the likelihood that in many instances these digital technologies are likely to remain at the centre of healthcare delivery.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere053440
JournalBMJ open
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2021. Re-use permitted under CC BY-NC. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ.


  • Aged
  • COVID-19
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Digital Divide
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2


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