Wherefore app thou? Perspectives on digital and social media in health for 2014

How long before GPs prescribe you and I a mobile phone ‘app’ for our condition instead of a pill, a test or some other treatment?  Sounds farcical doesn’t it? Perhaps it is already happening?.

As a reviewer it amazes me the number of new ideas for helping patients that come before me in the guise of ‘social media’ which actually show no appreciation of what it is like to live with condition ‘x.’  Of the additional support patients might need from human beings – yes, human beings, remember them? – to ensure they are effective.  Maybe even to prevent considerable harm.  Not everything can be reduced to an app.  Not everything downloaded from the cloud has a silver lining.

In such a burgeoning market the ‘wisdom of crowds’ is going to be increasingly important to you and I as it is when making any other choice.  So I’m delighted that the inimitable PatientView have today published a list of the 23 favourite health apps nominated by patient groups around the world.

PatientView run the myhealthapps.net website directory of health apps (previously covered on this blog) as well as publishing regular reports from a consumer perspective on health issues.

The ‘favourites’ list is interesting in its variety – from apps that help people to monitor their condition or provide health information, to those that enable one to locate a service or provide feedback on one.  As ever, the list and the directory are as interesting for what is missing as for what appears.  But credit to PatientView for striving to improve our knowledge in this area and in such an open and accessible way.

One of the hopes I have for 2014 is that we see some of the hype and hyperbole ebb out of the discussion about digital and social media.  It is an intensely exciting area with immense power to deliver good.  But, from a patient and public perspective, it must also be a co-operative bedfellow able to co-exist and connect with the many different facets of one’s care and treatment.  If it does not then it has the potential to become as obsolete as those unwanted and rather wrinkled grapes at the end of the hospital bed.

In that context I am grateful to my friends at TrialReach for tweeting this excellent article (in which they are quoted),from US-based Forbes magazine a view days ago. Written by Jon Nosta it is part reality check on the failures of current approaches but also reads as helpful ‘developer’ notes for those intending to build initiatives in this field.

I know little about the technical aspects of these things but the opening premise of any social media/digital initiative should be a commitment to co-production with patients and the public to get it right.

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