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CommonTime Enterprise Mobility Blog

Can the NHS App Library Encourage Self Service Care?

In today’s society, we can observe a growing dependence on public healthcare services with more strain than ever being placed on the NHS, with preventable conditions resulting from negative lifestyle choices a key cause of rising in-patient numbers.

A recent study from Public Health England (PHE) found that four-in-ten middle aged adults are failing to manage even one 10-minute brisk walk a month, in fact the average Briton is estimated to be spending twice the amount of time in the bathroom than exercising.

Despite steady growth levels in the UK fitness industry and total gym membership levels rising by 5.1% in 2017, there is no observable correlation between hospital admissions and patient numbers, with an average rise in admitted A&E patients of 4.3% per year.

If healthier lifestyles could be better encouraged, supported and sustained, cost savings across public healthcare services could potentially be made through preventing the development of conditions that require hospital treatment.

Understanding How the Digital App Library Works 

In an age where people are becoming more conscious about their health, fitness and nutrition the demand for an aligned, supportive healthcare service is growing rapidly. The latest digital venture looking to satisfy this swell in public opinion is the launch of the NHS Digital App Library.

This is a resource everyone can freely access and obtain an array of simple mobile apps and innovations through, each aimed at preventing and treating a range of ailments; from diabetes and dementia through to learning disabilities & COPD. Every available application is reviewed and vetted by independent NHS professionals prior to listing, with change requests fed back to developers for inclusion before any release can happen.

Private and public-sector organisations can both submit developments for inclusion, providing there is “clinical evidence that it supports clinical outcomes”. In fact, all applications that assist in areas where a need has been identified will be considered; in this model the NHS simply outlines the requirement, the market develops the tools, and patients ultimately benefit.

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 "Something needs to change with shortfalls in patient waiting times becoming prevalent across the UK."

Are There Better Methods of Prevention?

With the digital apps library currently undergoing BETA testing we can expect some changes to the service before it becomes widely adopted. It may even transpire that this tactic does not offer NHS England enough impact on rising in-patient admissions from preventable conditions, with other approaches better encouraging prevention and self-service care.

That said, the level of accessibility the Digital App Library provides is tremendously flexible, with applications working across all smartphone and tablet devices. However, the tools provided may simply not be diverse enough or they may not have the desired levels of impact on patient care to justify prolonged investment.

It’s clear that something needs to change with shortfalls in patient waiting times becoming prevalent in hospitals across the UK. This can be observed on a national scale with the majority of public healthcare sites now being rated as ‘requires improvement’ by the CQC.

Patient waiting times graph.png

So what other tactics could be employed? Health commissioners in Hertfordshire are taking a slightly different approach, choosing to use the ‘stick’ instead of the ‘carrot’ to encourage patient selfcare. Non-urgent surgery will now be denied to smokers unless they pass a breathalyser test to show they haven’t smoked in the past eight weeks. Furthermore, the Royal College of Surgeons have found that one in three NHS commissioning groups denied or delayed routine surgeries for smokers or patients with obesity until they lost weight or quit smoking.

Whilst these tactics of prioritising patients based on their lifestyle seems cold and insensitive, it remains to be seen whether the public in these regions will change their approach and better manage their own health to ensure they receive care and treatment when they need it, rather than face these somewhat harsh consequences.

Digital Care Prevention Techniques Already in Place

It could be argued that the NHS is going back over old ground with the launch of the Digital App Library. The popular NHS Choices website celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and prides itself on being the ‘front door’ to the NHS and attracts over 48 million visits every month – equating to over a quarter of all health-related web traffic in the UK.

With an ever-growing repository of helpful resources covering a diverse range of conditions and treatments, patients and loved ones can use this site to instantly access relevant information about any ailment or condition. When experiencing unexplained symptoms NHS Choices even allows you to explore potential causes and possibilities, offering advice on when to contact a GP or when to escalate your concern further.

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"The NHS Choices attracts over 48 million visits every month - equating to over a quarter of all health-related web traffic in the UK."

So, with the traffic and popularity that NHS Choices has, why has NHS England made the decision to develop their digital app library resource? It’s no secret that mobile browsing traffic supersedes traditional desktop browsing, with that trend only becoming more profound year-on-year. Coupled with the rising amount of time spent within apps rather than mobile browsing we can perhaps begin to understand why this investment in the public healthcare app library is happening.

BETA Feedback: Room for Improvement

Public browsing habits and mobile trends aside, it appears that NHS England are taking a measured approach to this project, as they work toward the objective of preventing public reliance on GP’s and emergency services.

Whilst in its infancy it is unrealistic to expect the same level of traffic and engagement as the well-established NHS Choices site, however are there other steps that can be taken to maximise the chances of success in this venture?

Promotion will be key. This new resource is currently being advertised through the NHS developers network and on the official NHS England site but isn’t obviously publicised in other channels. In order to capitalise on this development, it would be sensible to promote this service in other mainstream settings. For example, the introduction of a smart app banner on the NHS Choices site could help convert mobile traffic to this dedicated mobile resource.

Improvements could also be made within the format and functionality of the Digital App Library itself. Navigating to a library on a web browser to download apps for your device seem a little counter-intuitive, therefore the creation of a dedicated native app store just for vetted applications may further improve the user experience and encourage better engagement.

By Monitoring user feedback and app downloads volumes NHS England can measure the success of this programme on an ongoing basis. With careful monitoring and positive promotion, there is no reason why the adoption of this programme can’t become widespread. In the interim, we’ll just have to keep an eye on how our local healthcare services are performing!

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Posted by Dan McCarthy

Dan is an marketing graduate and CIM associate with a background in educational and healthcare IT. With a career spanning account management, marketing and product, Dan understands and manages new releases and marketing campaigns across CommonTime.