Health apps - are they always the best solution?
30th June 2021
By Natalya Butterworth
Project Marketing Manager, CDH
A digital solution still needs to be thought through carefully, however. CDH Project Manager Gina Oliver explains one example: "Patients may not have enough technical knowledge to set themselves up on an app. It's vital then that if you are to develop an app to give patients access to a digital service, you think really carefully about who is accessing it and what challenges they may have, and make sure you have appropriate solutions in place."
Most of the people we're working with are health professionals looking at developing:
Apps for remote consultation with patients
Apps for medical research trials or studies involving patient interactions
Apps for condition-specific symptom tracking and support
Apps for patient and staff training/education
Why are we seeing more requests for solutions in these areas?
Though the reasons are many, we're seeing some key factors influencing the surge:
The power of data
Planned and used well, apps can offer more powerful and convenient ways to work with data, providing better solutions for the collecting, viewing, comparing, storing and sorting of data and, as a result, gaining value. We commonly get enquiries from research and health teams making do with paper solutions, face to face/phone surveys and spreadsheets, which they're finding to be time-consuming and inefficient.
We're also seeing a drive to empower people to gain insights about their health condition to more effectively manage it, as well as equip them to provide more valuable information to healthcare providers. For example, we developed the Healthy Menopause app for a team of women’s health specialists who saw a need to provide women with more support, insight and reassurance.
The need to simplify processes and provide better tools
We are seeing these types of apps created to benefit both healthcare providers and patients. We’ve worked with Cambridge University Hospitals to create two such apps in use now:
The Cambridge Pain Education app, based on a previously ‘in-person’ seminar, necessary for patients to complete before progressing in their treatment pathway. Patients can now complete the session from home at their own pace and the clinic can track compliance, with reminders automated, and progress status easily accessed.
Our newly updated ICU Diary app enables ICU staff and patients’ relatives to easily create digital diary entries that can include audio recordings and images. These diaries are important for patient recovery, so simplifying the process of creating them has been extremely valuable for the ICU team.
These types of digital solutions that provide tools to streamline operations are the most common ones we work on and are the apps that get the most traction. It’s clear to see where they save time and money and they provide easy access to key performance indicators that help to keep important programmes on track.
Things to consider before developing a health app
If you are thinking of creating an app, it’s vital to spend a lot of time on the planning phase. We recommend considering these points before even engaging a developer:
Creating an app takes time – do you have the capacity to test your concept, plan your app features, create the content, test it rigorously with your target users and provide valuable feedback?
The best apps are ones that are simple and aimed at providing a very specific solution – is your concept at a point where you’re very clear on what your app will do and what features it will have?
Do your research. What apps are already out there? Why will your app be different?
Think about what's in it for you as well as your user. You may want lots of juicy data but if it’s not immediately clear to your user what the value is for them, your app won't get any traction.
How does the app fit with your organisation’s existing systems and broader processes/programmes? Considering this will ensure you avoid doubling up on work or creating a solution that's already being worked on by another team in your organisation.
Is your app a medical device? It’s crucial that you understand the different classifications and be prepared to go through the appropriate regulatory processes if necessary.
Do you really need an app? It’s important to make sure the solution really fits the need. You may be able to achieve what you need with other digital tools, or you may think a mobile app is the best solution when a web app would work better for your patients or workforce.
Privacy is a key concern for both healthcare providers and patients. It is key to be clear about how patient data is used and stored, and to be aware of your obligations and your organisation’s policies, and to strongly demonstrate the value of the app to the patient.
Be prepared to start small, testing your concept in a prototype first. Working with a patient advocacy group or a group of engaged supporters is highly valuable for testing your concept and ensuring you’re considering the user in terms of design and value to them. This can save on time and money later in the process when the actual development is underway.
Starting your app development journey
Once you’re happy that you’ve addressed the above things, start talking with developers to find the right fit for you.
Covid-19 has changed the physical spaces we move in and the face of the care we receive. The successful use of health apps driven by the expertise and dedication of individuals or teams in health, can help us respond to these changes more effectively, empower our healthcare providers, and enhance the power we have in monitoring our own health. A challenge we at CDH are experienced in meeting and we’re looking forward to helping even more people with creating their digital healthcare solutions.
Covid -19 has seen digital solutions in the health sector explode. The use of NHS Digital services has boomed, with the NHS app alone receiving 2.5M repeat prescription requests in Dec 2020, up from 46K in January 2020. We're seeing the effects of the pandemic reflected in the nature of the app development enquiries we're receiving at Cambridge Digital Health (CDH). On top of the obvious pandemic-driven need for reduction of physical contact and freeing-up clinic resources, it seems that people are riding a new wave of digital confidence. As the pandemic has driven more patients and healthcare professionals to digital solutions, they have cleared previously-perceived hurdles to welcome the benefits of convenience it brings.