Thoughts on the NHS endorsed app programme
Apps and online services represent a huge opportunity for the NHS. There’s technology available today that has the potential to overcome some of the NHS’ biggest challenges in particular overloaded GP surgeries, an aging population and more people living with long term conditions.
People interact with their phones and tablets in a way that was inconceivable 10 years ago. Our phones can now monitor our activity and heart rate meaning the opportunity to collect real-time data and enable patients to communicate with GPs is unprecedented. Assisted self-care is also one of Simon Steven’s 5 Year Forward objectives.
The concept of an “NHS endorsed” app or website is a powerful one. As UK citizens, we will be able to use an NHS app to either check our symptoms, manage our health or communicate with our care team without necessarily needing a face to face appointment. For many people, a digitally-enabled NHS could be as a radical as online was for banking, retail, music and airlines. This concept of digital health might not appeal to everyone but it will to a significant proportion, and of course the trend is only going one way.
So with the National Information Board soon to announce their plans for an NHS endorsed app programme here are my thoughts.
Every app should solve an NHS problem
An obvious place to start but many apps create more work for the NHS by giving patients unnecessary anxiety. The NHS should be in the driving seat and set the agenda for apps and technology it needs, not be at the whim of the market.
They must be clinically led
Why trust an NHS app if there has been no clinical oversight? NHS clinicians are also unlikely to trust an app that has not been near a doctor or nurse.
They must be connected directly into NHS systems
If you have been monitoring your blood pressure every day at home using an NHS app, this data should be fed into your GP record. An app where the data just stays on your phone is no more benefit to the NHS than if you had used paper and a pencil.
Simplicity is key
It must be simple to use. Usability and being patient-centric is critical for successful adoption. There must be guidelines to ensure consistency of terminology, usability and accessibility.
We need to see robust evidence
There are many health apps that provide medical advice to patients and even perform diagnosis but false advice can be highly dangerous. The public must be able to trust what an NHS app advises.
They should be free at the point of use
NHS apps that have demonstrated that they benefit the NHS and the patient should be prescribed and free for everyone. Expecting the UK public to pay for an app that is part of their treatment will hit major resistance, and effectiveness depends on widespread adoption.
There needs to be commitment to include apps as part of standard care
We need to end the pilot philosophy that has had a negative impact on technology adoption in the NHS for years. If an app works, and it is endorsed by the NHS, there should be a requirement for pathways to be updated to include it as a standard option for all patients.
We need to recognise and bridge the digital divide.
The NHS should make sure that the technology benefits as many as possible. Apps are only one way of allowing patients to access NHS services – online, SMS, interactive phone calls can all be used where patients do not own a smart phone. The programme must consider communication alternative channels so that the maximum proportion of the population is covered.
So let’s see how the proposals to be announced by the National Information Board (NIB) score.