Healthcare apps: Innovation from the frontline

There are times when you attend a conference and you come away feeling inspired and somewhat refreshed. This happened when I attended healthcare apps – maximising impact in Liverpool a few weeks back.

What was striking was the level of enthusiasm to promote change and the level of enthusiasm to adopt mobile technology into healthcare. We didn’t mention once Apple Vs. Android, Google paid advertising, social media trends for 2013, or the myriad of other aspects that mobile can sometimes command at conferences.

For a change, it was all focused on the user which, for me is a good thing. It was focused on exploiting mobile technology to improve the management and the outcome of the patient. The conference frequently discussed the cost of a patient’s day bed in the NHS in relation to the annual cost of a smartphone. All very compelling.

Before I go any further, I am not from a medical background or have any medical qualifications. However, we know a thing or two when it comes to mobile but thats for a later post!

So, there is a movement which I am part of to promote mobile in healthcare and its gaining traction. It’s not a militant movement of any kind and you won’t see us outside parliament waving our smartphones (not just yet anyway) rather people in the industry are developing mobile solutions that that really do innovate. When I use the term ‘industry’ I refer to the members of HANDI (Healthcare App Network for Development and Innovation) and other similar, connecting organisations like Integrated Change.

The real innovators

However, the innovators in my opinion are not the developers, early adopters or the technology itself. The innovators in my mind are the healthcare professionals, clinicians, GP’s, doctors, nurses and so on. Their sole purpose in choosing to work in healthcare was to improve the lives of patients and now, they have mobile as a vehicle to assist in this. It is these people who are the true innovators – they know the pressures, challenges and desired outcomes and they know their patients. There is a lot that commercial organisations can learn just from this statement alone.

Last year, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “Innovation and technology can revolutionise the health service.
“We are looking at how the NHS can use these apps for the benefit of patients, including how GPs could offer them for free.”

So much going on in this space

Only last month, an NHS Trust created an app specifically for GP’s

The NHS has also recently issued an order for 100,000 new patients to be monitored with m-health by 2014 and, according to Berg Insight; at the end of 2012 2.8 million patients were keeping on top of their health from home via we-connected devices. This figure doesn’t include smartphones, tablets or PC’s so I would expect this to be considerably higher.

mersey bruns imageIn January, an app developed by the Mersey Plastic Surgery Unit was the UK’s first app to be recognised as a medical device, under the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) compliance guidelines.

There are around 19 different calculations needed for a burn and early, accurate assessment of the burn area and applying the correct fluid management is critical for burns victims.

The app allows a doctor to shade the area of the body where a patient has been burnt .You input the patients age, time of burn and other details and the app will produce the action required through a series of complex calculations and formula’s. The fact that the app is now recognised as a software medical device just shows how far we have come with mobile apps in healthcare.


The NHS Commissioning Board has created a new online apps directory, which is gaining momentum. At alpha stage, the directory consists of 24 apps across desktop, mobile and tablet specifically for users to download. Each app submitted would go through a rigorous accreditation process, which is just what the industry needs. With a commercial model behind it, in time I think this will become an extremely important portal.

In fact, one of the clients whom I work with has just had their app accepted to the this new breed of store which, is great news.

I could go on but you can see just from the few examples mentioned the level of enthusiasm and willingness to adopt technology. We are not just talking about creating apps for apps sake here either; there are real benefits in healthcare apps. Remember I’m not from a medical background but to me the benefits are: –

1. Early assessment

2. Better condition management

3. Better patient compliance

4. Better patient management

5. Better patient outcome

And when you look at the NHS for example, these translate to: –

1. Cost saving

2. Time saving

3. Reduced duplication

4. Efficient delivery of treatment

5. Happy patients

Self management and the dangers

lack of accurate medical app data2

I recently created an infographic that showed the rise in the use of mobile apps to self-track our health and medical symptoms (you can view the post here) but we must also be mindful of the risks that they present.

Richard Brady from the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and Research Active conducted a study on the evolution of medical apps and, at the conference provided a few interesting facts which you can see in this infographic.

Ultimately a lot of apps have no or little medical involvement. Apps can be released on iOS, Android etc. that claim to have medical benefits and the involvement of medical professionals but in actual fact some do not.

Apple and Google do not review the app with a team of medics behind them.

The legal and regulatory challenges are clear and I hope that the creation of a medical apps store by the NHS CB will help to alleviate some of these fears.

In conjunction to this, I think there also needs to be an educational shift from the end-users (in this instance the patient) who are searching the app stores in their own time and downloading healthcare apps. Throughout their journey of app discovery, there is little intervention, other than user reviews and promotional descriptions, to inform them of what will and wont benefit their condition.

I was recently made aware of a medical app that costs £699 but it wasn’t clear what or how the app should be used or whether it needed professional healthcare guidance (which it did). I’m sure there are many more examples in every mobile app store available.


Clearly lots to do. As James Sherwin Smith of D4 stated at the conference – “We run around with smartphones, the NHS run around with paper”

Engagement is an absolutely key aspect to all of this. We need to engage with the patient on their level, we need to engage with the health care professionals to extract the knowledge and we need to engage with industry to instil compelling business models.

I’ve met some very forward thinking people at HANDI and within the healthcare industry itself who are working really hard to educate and innovate from the frontline. That alone is extremely encouraging and it’s certainly an exciting time for all concerned.