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Accelerating the use of digital technologies was central to our Covid-19 response. It will also be key to managing the shift to more sustainable business models and the threats to our health posed by climate change.

Dr Robin Clark, Medical Director of Bupa UK, says,

"We saw, the potential and convenience of remote consultations, apps, smart devices and other technologies. These technologies can play an important role in how we provide healthcare which provides better outcomes for people and for the planet."

Speed of transformation

The speed of digital transformation has been astounding. From late 2019 to the peak of the pandemic, the proportion of GP consultations delivered by phone or video link more than tripled. This went from 13% to 48%.1

While remote consultations aren't emissions-free, the environmental benefits from avoided travel are huge. The Royal College of Physicians estimates that every remote appointment saves between 0.70 and 372kg of carbon dioxide equivalent.2

Patient benefits

92 percent 

Many patients also like this approach. Research by Deloitte shows that 92% of consumers were very, or somewhat, satisfied with their experience of virtual healthcare.3

Cutting carbon

This journey has already begun. Take our digital GP app for example. It provides 24/7 access to an online GP, nurse, pharmacist or physiotherapist across ten countries. Last year it delivered around 771,000 digital consultations.5

There is also a significant green dividend. This app alone has the potential to cut up to 8,000 equivalent tonnes of carbon dioxide by eliminating unneeded travel.5

That's the equivalent of around 20.2 million air-miles6 or 819 flights around the world.7

Healthcare consultants Carnall Farrar estimate the NHS could save 48,000 hours of specialist clinical time annually if GPs used remote dermatology to check concerning skin changes.8

That would free up an additional 5%8 of specialist capacity. Instead it could be focused on improved care for inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. This would have a huge impact on quality of life for those with the conditions.9

On demand

SilverCloud, which provides on-demand mental health support, can also improve access to healthcare. By using digital health platforms we can reduce the environmental impact of travel to appointments.

SilverCloud can help users identify negative thought patterns and triggers. It embeds healthier habits and reduces the risk of poor mental health in the future.

We are seeing similar gains from wellbeing wearables, too. Activity trackers, sleep trackers and devices track calorie intake and blood pressure.

Recent research from Deloitte shows that seven in ten consumers who use fitness trackers say they have improved their fitness and health. Almost a third reported their fitness and health is significantly better.

This rapidly expanding network of connected technologies can capture, analyse and share data. It can also relay real-time information or advice back to individuals and their healthcare professionals.

Reducing complications

This joined-up healthcare is already transforming diabetes care.

Devices which provide real-time continuous glucose monitoring or intermittent scanning can also be beneficial. They not only provide an accurate feed of blood-sugar readings to a user's smartphone, they also predict where levels are heading.

This allows people with diabetes to maintain optimal blood sugar control. It also reduces their risk of:

4.3 million people in the UK are now living with diabetes. Thus the potential benefits of this technology are huge. For both patients and the environment.10

Metrics for prevention

This technology can be used to track a wide range of health metrics and conditions such as:

  • high cholesterol
  • hypertension
  • asthma

For example, an international team which includes researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Birmingham have just created a digital monitor to track levels of stress hormones.11

Resources and guides

1ITU, 2021

2Does telemedicine reduce the carbon footprint of healthcare? A systematic review, 2021. DOI:10.7861/FHJ.2020-0080

3Deloitte, 2022. (PDF, 2.9MB)

4McKinsey & Company, 2022.

5Bupa, 2022. (PDF, 9.2MB)

6EMSmastery, 2022.

7National Geographic, 2022.

8Carnall Farrar, 2022.

9 Factors affecting health-related quality of life in patients with skin disease: cross-sectional results from 8,789 patients with 16 skin diseases, 2020. DOI:

10Diabetes UK, 2023.

11 Wearable monitor detects stress hormone levels across a full 24-hour day, 2023. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.adg8464

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