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An overview of Healthcare Apps in the UK

Yesterday I presented a talk ‘An overview of Healthcare apps in the UK’ at the Medical Apps Seminar organised by the British Computer Society (BCS). The presentation (made in prezi) along with notes and references are below.

There has been a growth in the use of smartphones (i.e. phones that fulfil the basic functions of a computer) in the UK, with Ofcom, the independent regulator for the UK communications industries reporting in early August 2011 that nearly one in three adults in the UK now use a smartphone. Teenagers in particular are ditching more traditional activities in favour of using their smartphones, with 23% claiming to watch less TV and 15% admitting they read fewer books. When asked about the use of their smartphones, 37% of adults and 60% of teens admitted that they were ‘highly addicted’ to smartphones.

The number of smartphones in use globally is expected to hit 1.7 billion by 2014. Analysts Mason have forecast that the use of smartphone devices will grow at an annual rate of 32% between 2010 and 2014. Based on both Ofcom’s report and this forecast we can broadly estimate that by 2014, 62% of the UK population will be smartphone users.

In terms of app usage, in June 2010, the average US mobile user spent 43 minutes a day using apps. In June 2011, that increased to 81 minutes, with web usage at 74 minutes. This shows that apps are becoming even more popular than traditional websites, and though these figures are for the US, it wouldn’t be surprising if similar types of figures are found for the UK.

Currently, iPhone accounts for two thirds of UK connected app users, a 65% share, with Android accounting for 31%, and other platforms taking a 4% share (Source). However, Over the past year, the Android has seen 4.7 million new users adopt the OS in the UK, resulting in a 634 percent increase.

Some may ask why there a need for healthcare apps? BUPA conducted research which revealed that 73% of Brits go online for health information; more than 64% look for information about medicines, and 58% self-diagnose. Shockingly, only a quarter of people say they check where their online advice has come from.

Furthermore, a Nottingham-based research team used the search engine to find UK-based advice on five common health issues. They found that only 40% of the websites offered correct information (Source). Hence, there are great benefits for healthcare users to use apps that are promoting best practice and tailored to their health needs.

Currently, there are around 4,199 paid medical apps and 2,792 free medical apps in the iTunes App store, 6,991 in total- that’s just from iTunes (Source). The Android store also has a medical category.

Apple has attempted to categorise these apps so that healthcare users can find them easily. They have categorised them as:

  • Reference Apps which provide mobile and convenient point of care access to reference information
  • Education Apps which support health care professionals and students with educational content
  • EMR & Patient Monitoring Apps which are linked to Electronic Health Records.
  • Imaging Apps, which connect health care professionals with hospital systems.
  • Point of Care Apps which support health care professionals at the bedside
  • Personal Care Apps are for wellness for patients and the public

Based on the popularity of healthcare apps, in August (this year), the Department of Health launched a crowdsourcing initiative for people to vote on existing healthcare apps and propose ideas for new healthcare apps at the Department of Health website, which was called #mapsandapps. They did this by calling on patients, health professionals and budding app developers to tell them about their ideal app. The idea was that the top voted apps would be judged by a panel, and a group of apps would be chosen to be showcased at an event. In the original plan for the project they were aiming for at least 1,000 interactions on the site. In the end they received 9,198 entries, votes or comments. They were very pleased with this, especially because there was no dedicated marketing (Source).

The top voted app was Moodscope which is a ‘website-based-app’ which allows one to measure, track and record comments on your state of mind, allowing you to see what things in life make you feel happy/sad and results can be sent to friends and carers, alerting them if you’re feeling down.

HealthUnlocked was the second best voted app. It provides a social network for patients, providing online support. Amongst other things, it lets patients share experiences and monitor their health.

FoodWiz.co (as the third best voted app) is an app for people with food allergies. You can download FoodWiz onto your smartphone and input the ingredients you wish to avoid. Whilst shopping, you can simply zap the barcode of any item you wish to check and you will be told if it is suitable.

The idea of the fourth best voted app is to provide self-help in the aftermath of a sexual assault, including access to services, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptom support and self-help ideas.

The fifth best voted app was an app for Patients Know Best. Patients Know Best is a system already in place; where the patient is in control of his/her health record and each clinician gets access to the electronic healthcare record.

So these are the top 5 voted ideas. I also contributed to this project by writing about a way finding app, which you can read more about here or on the Department of health mapsandapps blog.

In conclusion, these are a few challenges that I currently envisage for healthcare apps, for example:

  • Currently 2/3 of the UK population don’t have smartphones. How effective are the alternatives to apps in this interim period?
  • How do you successfully categorise healthcare apps, so that healthcare users can easily find them?
  • How can the NHS use its branding to mark apps as official and trustworthy?
  • Should the NHS look at approving third party apps?
  • How do you ensure that apps are not replicated?
  • How do you ensure that apps fulfil a function greater than being just a flashy app?

I would be delighted to hear from you on how these challenges can be overcome or at the very least, addressed.