An App a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Sarah-Emily Mutch

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

NEC Corporation of America / Flickr Creative Commons

NEC Corporation of America / Flickr Creative Commons

Your smart phone can help you make healthier decisions, monitor your conditions, and with the help of wearables, keep track of anything from your activity to your blood glucose levels. There are a plethora of apps out there for your health needs, from losing weight to managing your anxiety.

Increasingly our devices monitor us without user input, analyse the data, and then display suggestions. Some apps allow the user to access their data on a separate website. However, most have no way of getting this information to your doctor, who could then use it to alter your prescriptions and make informed diagnoses.

In 2013, the NHS started a list of recommended apps that they have checked that they are backed by medical research. However, faced with an ever-increasing number of apps, the NHS recently took this website down to update the list. The NHS needs to engage with app developers to take advantage of this technology to improve patient care with faster more accurate diagnoses, better condition management, and patient behaviours.

To make the most of this technology, doctors need to see the data in standard form that’s easy to analyse from a doctor’s point of view. There is already a voluntary international standard  which attempts to standardise the data output from health apps. However, I believe the NHS could do more to encourage app developers to integrate with existing systems, and have visually accessible information presented on a generic interface that doctors can be trained in quickly.

Image credit: http://vector4free.com/vector/ecg-abstract-vector-background/

Image credit: http://vector4free.com/vector/ecg-abstract-vector-background/

The NHS should be able to award ‘endorsed by the National Health Service’ badges to apps that are not only backed by research, but that provide secure access to data through a standardised system at the patient’s request. There are security risks in allowing potentially life-changing health data to be shared, contain life-changing data. Your device may just be telling you to seek medical advice, but to an insurance company, knowledgeable associate or even your employer, its data could tell of a serious condition that you or your closet family members don’t know about yet. A key component of the award must be the use of strong encryption and higher levels of security than those currently offered by most health apps.

The NHS has the power, as a body that represents the majority of the UK’s health-consumers, to demand that the apps its patients use are backed by research, secure, and can easily provide information to the user’s GP safely. With a secure way of sharing data, health apps can move from a mere technological curiosity to an indispensable tool for modern healthcare.


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