Department of Health mHealth Apps: the new point of care for patients with GPS smartphones who don’t know where they are and need to find a GP

Today I spent some time checking out the latest Smartphone App idea competition from the Department of Health:

We want you to tell us about the best health apps, and to hear your ideas for new ones. For six weeks from Monday, 22nd August, we’ll be inviting people to contribute to a conversation about innovation, information and apps for health and care. We want to find examples of the best, most popular existing health apps, and hear your ideas for apps that haven’t been developed yet. We want to hear from anyone with an interest, whether you’re a patient, doctor, nurse or an app developer. At the end of the six weeks a panel of judges will choose their favourite apps and ideas to be showcased at an event in the Autumn. We’re happy for you to submit any ideas, but as a guide we’re hoping to hear about apps for:

Personalisation and choice of care and support – for example, an app that allows people to search for health information online

Better health and care outcomes – for example, an app that allows a patient to manage their health condition

Autonomy and accountability – for example, an app that allows patients to rate and review their local health services

Improving public health – for example, an app that tracks your levels of exercise

Improving long-term care and support – for example, an app that helps patients plan their own care

The project has even got the support of Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health, who introduces it in the following video in which you can see he’s rather excited about the idea of a “find your GP Map (I think he means ‘app’) that can tell you precisely using GPS technology where you are“:

While we’re all too aware of the languishing adoption of mHealth apps that have already been proven to yield hundreds of thousands in efficiency savings, halved the time spent on administration, released ‘time to care’ for healthcare professionals and helped protect Trusts against the substantial costs associated with potential litigation and/or failure to comply with government directives, it really surprises me that somewhere someone in control of NHS budgets thinks a social networking campaign involving the “creation of new ideas” is the best way to identify feasible new strategies.

I’m also confused about the validity of using an online crowd to vote to find the “most popular existing health app” – I wonder if they know that Apple/Google/Nokia would be very willing to provide them with a much more accurate way to determine this?

But it’s when I watched Dr Shaibal Roy talk of the Tesco iPhone App that is capable of scanning a barcode on a product and creating your shopping list that the penny dropped with me:

Obviously there is an assumption being made here that the NHS is already fully digitalised (like the barcodes and online shopping lists offered by Tesco) and that patients already access their information online (its worth being mindful that even where it is already available patient adoption is very low). Maybe they didn’t see the public accounts committee report on the spectacular disaster of the NHS’s national computer system. A monumentally mismanaged project that the committee is suggesting should be scrapped after it burnt through £6.4 Billion trying to simply replace paper medical records with a centralised electronic patient record database.

While the NHS continues to try and round the mHealth wheel by chucking ever more new ideas out there I think the reality is much more staightforward. Before running you need to walk and before investing heavily in an area where you have no expertise it would be better to get the basics in place and collaborate rather than endlessly try to reinvent. How about they start with a couple of fundamentals:

> Providing every NHS facility in the UK with a mobile optimised secure interactive website
> Providing every NHS facility with secure 2 way SMS communications (combined with secure access to their patient portal).

Always remember the first rule of software development: start by building the simplest thing you can and then see where it gets you.

NOTE: I got in a whole lot of political hot water when I last commented on a publicly funded healthcare search for innovation so I have to be very careful with what I say here – please feel welcome to read between the lines

UPDATE 24 August: I’ve noticed that PatientsKnowBest have submitted an application and whilst I see this reinforces my belief in the futility of this competition (rather than an idea this application is from a company that has already deployed a service with some of the leading hospitals in the UK yet is still struggling to get wider recognition with the DOH) it’s definitely very worthy of your vote as it not only represents a great company but also patients being in control of their own records.

*** *** UPDATE: 17 October 2015 *** ***

Stephanie Baum at Medcity reports that the service has been closed down after being “undermined by inadequate data security”. I think it was more a complete lack of understanding of mobile, mHealth and the role of the NHS.

As I commented to the Medcity article: “I’m not surprised by this outcome. The whole project was conceived by people who were so far behind the times that they didn’t know the difference between “apps” & “maps”! “Wouldn’t it be great if…” they had known what they were doing?

I think Satish Misra MD at iMedical Apps has appreciated the key adoption challenge that mHealth presents: empowering patients & clinicians needs to go a step further, not just providing them with new tools but also providing them with the resources and information they need to pick the right tools as this is exactly the challenge we designed the mHealth for Healthcare Professionals Course to help address.

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6 Responses to Department of Health mHealth Apps: the new point of care for patients with GPS smartphones who don’t know where they are and need to find a GP

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