Pharma insight on digital marketing, social media, mobile apps, online video, websites and interactive healthcare tools
by Dominic Tyer
UK doctors could soon be directing their patients to download a smartphone app to help them better monitor and manage their health, according to the Department of Health.
It follows a six-week project last year to crowd-source the best ideas in mobile health, entries to which included a social network app for patients, one providing food allergy information and an app to give patients control of their medical records.
The UK government has now thrown its weight behind the scheme, saying new smartphone apps could 'revolutionise' the NHS for patients, and it is showcasing the best ideas at an event today.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “So many people use apps every day to keep up with their friends, with the news, find out when the next bus will turn up or which train to catch. I want to make using apps to track blood pressure, to find the nearest source of support when you need it and to get practical help in staying healthy the norm.
“Information about your health is a service – just like the GP surgeries, Walk-in Centres and hospitals that millions of people access every week. With more information at their fingertips, patients can truly be in the driving seat.
“Innovation and technology can revolutionise the health service, and we are looking at how the NHS can use these apps for the benefit of patients, including how GPs could offer them for free.”
The 'Maps and Apps' competition ran for six weeks, receiving 9,198 entries, votes or comments - more than nine times the number the Department of Health was aiming for.
The most popular app ideas were:
• to help manage long-term conditions like diabetes
• to help people deal with post-traumatic stress
• to track and monitor things like blood pressure
• to help people find NHS services on a map
• to get practical information about keeping fit and eating healthily.
The two most popular existing apps were Moodscope, which measures a user's state of mind and alerts friends or carers if they feel low, and HealthUnlocked, which provides a social network for patients.
Meanwhile, the top ideas for new apps were for one that offers information in the aftermath of sexual assault, and Patients Know Best, which would give patients access to all their health records and let them control who gets access to them.
The official NHS website, NHS Choices, was last month visited by 14.5m people looking for information on health and local services, and the government said that developing smartphone apps is the next step in giving patients the health information and advice they need and want.
The government's own flagship NHS Direct app, available in Android and iPhone versions, is less than a year old but has already proved very popular with the public. By November it had racked up more than one million downloads, after topping the iTunes chart of free apps in its first week of release last May.
According to a recent survey just over half the UK population now owns a smartphone, the most popular types of which are phones running Google's Android operating software, followed by Apple's iPhone.
Martha Lane-Fox, UK digital champion and dot.com entrepreneur, said: “We live in a world where digital technology is an essential part of people's lives - whether it's at work or simply getting around town. I want to encourage more people to develop their digital skills, and that's why it's been great to be a part of this initiative.
“Using apps that locate local health services or apps that help you to get fit can dramatically improve your daily life.”
The government now is in the process of developing an Information Strategy to ensure that patients and clinicians have access to meaningful and up-to-date information.
This aims to give patients more choice, control and responsibility over their health and clinicians the information to manage how they deliver local services and is due to be published in the spring.