Picture credit: Nottingham University Hospitals

Mona Johnson, Clinical Lead for Self-care and Prevention at NHS Digital, discusses how apps and wearables are transforming nursing, and the ability for patients to monitor themselves, and how an NHS Apps Library will help pick out the ones that work and are safe…

Picture credit: Nottingham University Hospitals

The health apps market is among the fastest growing of any sector. There are already around 250,000 apps that cater for health and wellbeing and use of them in the UK is skyrocketing.

People have never before had such opportunities to take a greater role in determining their own health and well-being. These opportunities are not without risk, with clinicians playing an important role in discussions about apps or wearables with their patients.

Some of the challenges faced by patients and clinicians will be how to know the claims of an app are legitimate, real and appropriate for an individual’s needs.

So NHS Digital is currently developing a trusted library of digital tools and services: The NHS Apps Library. Indeed, this library is in beta-testing at the time of writing.

Working with partners such as NHS England, NICE, CQC, MHRA, and app developers, NHS Digital is in the process of developing a review process through which apps, and later wearable devices, may be published as “approved” in the NHS Apps Library where compliance with the NHS’s digital standard has been achieved, and evidence of effectiveness is available.

Prioritising which apps should be considered in which order is based on health needs, research and outcomes. We are working with partners, such as NICE and PHE to provide a structured assessment of apps.

In time certain elements of the assessment may become automated. This will allow the library to increase its ‘stock’ meaning that, over time, it will be increasingly likely that people will find exactly what they are looking for.

NHS Digital has created a mobile health space for app developers to sit alongside the Apps Library; developer.nhs.uk. This area provides information and support about the standards, testing and assurance process developers need to adhere to in order to “play” in the NHS.

Apps will allow patients to take greater control of their own healthcare, provide structured information or feedback to clinicians, or allow a means of interacting with services in a novel and more convenient way. But at the back end, the datasets that are generated could be of great value to the NHS, in terms of helping individuals, and planning services for whole communities.

We are all familiar with search engines that predict our search terms and shopping sites that predict our wants and needs. Using similar technology, it may be possible for systems embedded in devices, clinical systems or apps to be developed to respond to changes in clinical indicators, and to adjust accordingly.

In this way, people whose data is stored or processed using apps may offered the opportunity to ‘donate’ their data, just as is currently a standard practice in other clinical areas such as genetic screening, oncology or IVF. The NHS may be able to use that donated data to inform what we do, and indeed what interventions are effective, on a scale not previously possible.