Blog: I have ‘This Feeling’ – Could 9 out of 10 health apps be simply useless from a patient and carers point of view?

PatientView – the originators of the excellent myhealthapps.net directory – published an important piece of work this week entitled: ‘What do patients and carers need from health apps – but are not getting?’  You can download it here.

Their report looks at the results of a survey they conducted of over 1,000 patients and carers across Europe about what they think about health apps.  It then highlights unmet needs in five therapy areas – cancer, diabetes, disability (pain management), mental health and wellness – that were identified in a follow-up workshop.  PatientView conclude the report with some recommendations for app developers about what they should be doing to ensure all their hard work and money is not going to waste!

The survey shows that ‘health apps’ are seen by patients and carers as a potential avenue for helping them understand and manage their condition, a source of practical support such as care planning, and a means of communicating with doctors and health professionals.  But people are confused by the number of ‘apps’ out there, find it difficult to find the ones that might be most useful, and are somewhat distrustful of who funds and makes them.

Interestingly this research also suggests that few doctors are suggesting ‘apps’ to their patients – a finding backed-up by a MedPanel survey in the US this week that showed only 15% of doctors are recommending mobile health apps to people.  Perhaps both doctor and patient are simply struggling to find the utility in this technology for treating and managing a range of conditions?

If you are a reviewer then it is likely you will have noticed a trend in the number of researchers putting forward applications and proposals to develop ‘apps.’  So I really like the fact that PatientView finish their report with ten recommendations for what developers and researchers should be doing if they want their inventions to be worthwhile to patients.  They are:

  1. involve patients: establish a transparent, fair and sustainable way to involve patients, patient groups and carers in app development
  2.  address unmet needs: identify and address truly unmet patient and public needs, and switch the balance from information-giving and trackers to tools that help patients put this knowledge and data into action, enabling them to self-manage
  3.  set up a one-stop advice shop for developers: in one place, provide them with definitive, up-to-date guidance on key issues such as regulatory requirements, clinical approval methods, best practice in involving patients, and horizon-scanning on technological developments, issues and opportunities
  4.  share best practice: identify, develop and communicate models of best practice, for example in involving patients and carers in identifying unmet needs
  5.  gain “air time” for quality apps: identifying ways for developers of quality health apps to market and differentiate themselves from the many products available
  6. find the business model: identify sustainable business models for apps, and make this funding transparent to browsing consumers
  7. demonstrate clinical rigour: confirm and clarify the clinical approval requirements which apply to health apps
  8.  bring apps into the mainstream: integrate them into wider and “real-world” healthcare solutions, rather than remaining fragmentary “add-ons”
  9.  future-proof apps: make them sustainable and adaptable to future changes
  10. enable informed choices to be made by patients and carers about healthcare apps, for example by raising standards of digital/app/mhealth literacy, and gaining clinician input on recommending and prescribing apps.

But let’s finish on a positive note.  Some people do strive to get it right. ‘This Feeling’ is an iPad app developed by Arthritis Research UK and the National Institute for Health Research Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit with young people.   It helps children and young people with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) describe their pain.  95% of the young people who were part of the project preferred the app and found it an interesting and engaging way to communicate about their pain.  You can see Professor Wendy Thomas talking about the work on youtube.

Have a great weekend everyone.

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