It’s safe to say that 2020 has been a year like no other, so as we look to welcome 2021 in just a few hours let’s take a look back at Digital Health’s most popular stories from the past 365 days. 

Unsurprisingly Covid-19 dominates the majority of our top ten – with just one story being non-Covid. Join us now as we look at the 10 most-read stories by you, our readers.

10. NHS datasets ‘not sophisticated enough’ to flag high risk patients

As the coronavirus pandemic started to hit the UK back in March, primary care clinicians were asked to flag vulnerable patients at greater risk of hospitalisation from coronavirus as central NHS datasets were “not sophisticated enough” to identify all groups.

A letter sent to GPs from Dr Nikita Kanani, medical director for primary care, asked those central to patient care to identify at-risk patients who may have slipped under the radar.

Seen by Digital Health News, the letter acknowledged that databases held by NHS England at the time were not extensive enough to identify every at-risk patient.

9. Superdrug launches ‘world’s most accurate’ home DNA test kit

The only story in the top 10 which is not Covid-related – March also saw readers flocking to read about how Superdrug launched what it called “the world’s most accurate” home DNA test.

CircleDNA claims to be capable of reporting on more than 500 genetic categories including disease risk, food sensitivity and behavioural traits.

Test results are delivered via the CircleDNA app in 18 days and offer an “in-depth analysis” on a number of reports which include diet, skin ancestry, sleep and stress.

8. GoodSAM app being used to recruit NHS volunteers

With worrying Covid-19 headlines dominating the news agenda in 2020, one story showed the acts of kindness that people displayed during the pandemic.

GoodSAM, a digital tool which is usually used to alert those with medical training to nearby emergencies, was also used to help recruit volunteers for the NHS by allowing people to offer their services to those in need.

GPs, doctors, pharmacists, nurses, midwives, NHS 111 advisers and social care staff were able to request help for their at-risk patients via a call centre run by the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS).

7. NHS Covid-19 App error ‘left thousands unaware they need to isolate’

In November, a report by The Sunday Times caused a stir when it was revealed a reported error with the NHS Covid-19 app has left potentially thousands of people unaware they may have been exposed to coronavirus.

The contact-tracing app was set at the wrong sensitivity level, meaning many users were not sent self-isolation alerts after they came into contact with infected people.

The error meant users whose “risk score” should have triggered an alert were not notified.

6. More than one million access NHS 111 support for coronavirus

As Covid-19 swept across the country, people turned to NHS 111 online for help and support. At the beginning of March it was reported that more than one million people used the dedicated system set up for queries about coronavirus.

The service provided people with approved advice after there was a surge of enquiries to the health service about the outbreak.

At its peak, the service received more than 210,000 enquiries in a single day.

5. NHS Covid-19 contact-tracing app launched in England and Wales

September saw the much-anticipated launch of the NHS Covid-19 contact-tracing app across England and Wales.

A popular topic across the whole year, the app is based on APIs from Apple and Google and uses Bluetooth technology to track time and distance between smartphone devices.

The app also offers a QR code check-in capability at bars, restaurants and other venues, designed to aid NHS Test and Trace in contacting customers with public health advice should there be a Covid-19 outbreak.

Users are also be able to check their symptoms and book a free test through the app, which also includes an isolation countdown timer to remind people to quarantine.

4. King’s College London launches Covid-19 symptom reporting app

Sticking with apps, early on in the pandemic King’s College London launched an app which allowed people to report symptoms of Covid-19 so that the progression of the disease could be tracked.

The ZOE app was set up to help slow the outbreak of Covid-19 by helping researchers determine how fast the virus was spreading in a particular area, as well as identify high-risk areas in the country and who is most at risk by better understanding symptoms linked to underlying health conditions.

3. NHS Covid-19 App updated to fix disappearing exposure alerts

Back to the NHS Covid-19 app – users in October reported disappearing notifications, though the problem was swiftly sorted.

Users said the notifications appeared on their phone but then disappeared when they opened the app.

It was later revealed that the messages were caused by default privacy notifications from Apple and Google, which provide the technology the app is built on.

2. Covid-19 tracking tool appears on smartphones – but it’s not an app

Another story which got people reading was back in June when a Covid-19 tracking feature appeared on Androids and iPhones – but it wasn’t a contact-tracing app.

It was revealed that the new settings were part of an update to the operating systems, which were designed to enable an app to run in the background.

The “exposure notification” allows contact-tracing apps to send a notification if you’ve likely been exposed to Covid-19. The tool is switched off by default and requires a user to opt-in to the system. Once opted-in the system will generate a random ID for an individual’s device, which would be exchanged between devices using Bluetooth to monitor the spread of the virus.

1. Sick notes to be automated through NHS 111 to prevent Covid-19 spread

Away from contact-tracing apps and datasets – the top story on Digital Health in 2020 was the news that people with suspected coronavirus would be able to have a sick note issued digitally through NHS 111.

A story which resonated with a lot of people, the announcement was made by chancellor Rishi Sunak in a raft of measures the the March Budget. Part of the £30 billion package was the automation of sick notes for patients who are self-isolating.

The service is being built “as swiftly as possible”, according to an NHS Digital spokesperson. Under the new system, people were able to provide a note to their employer without having face-to-face contact with GP services, reducing the likelihood that the virus would be spread.