NHS Health Apps Library

NHS Health Apps Library

In March this year The NHS Commissiong Board launched its Health Apps Library with the main aim of  making it easier for people to find health and medical apps that they can trust and which adhere to NHS safety / compliance standards in health IT.

With over 40,000 healthcare related apps available globally, a key focus for the NHS is on ensuring that the apps listed in the Library are all clinically safe and suitable for people who are living in the UK.  Dr Maureen Baker, Clinical Director for Patient Safety, and her team  developed a review process that applies, for the first time, safety standards in health technology to health apps.

At the time of writing this post I was able to discover around 70 apps listed on the site, so it is by no means a comprehensive source of information yet. The main focus is on apps aimed at patients but I would imagine that it would also be a useful place to list apps that are aimed specifically for use by healthcare professionals. As we know, many HCPs are using apps in their day to day roles to help perform medical calculations and diagnose patients etc, so adding a list of apps that have been tested and approved for use by HCPs would no doubt be of great value to them.

Clinical Business Excellence

Mobile Medical Apps: A Great Way of Reaching HCPs?

Damon Lightley featued in Clinical Business ExcellenceDamon Lightley, Marketing Director at Genetic Digital was approached by one of the editors from Clinical Business Excellence to write an article about medical apps.

The article has now been published and appears on page 8 of the August 2012 issue of Clinical Business Excellence. It is titled: “Mobile Medical Applications: A Great Way of Reaching HCPs?” A PDF version is also available.

Mobile Medical Apps: A Great Way of Reaching HCPs?

Diagnosis apps

Using Medical Apps for Diagnosing Patients

Using Medical Apps for Virtual DiagnosisIn May of this year Isabel Healthcare announced their new mobile application (app). The app is based on Isabel’s checklist system for diagnosis. The App allows doctors and nurses and other health care providers access to the app via iPhone, iPad or iPod touch mobiles.  Diagnosis can be established with the resulting possibility of treatment for patients being delivered faster.  And this innovative tool in the physician’s armoury has claimed a coveted top app rating in Apple’s Medical App category.  Where Isabel has gone many will follow and medical apps are beginning to make their presence felt in the medical community. Taking the Isabel App as an example it has been offered for download from Apple’s App Store with three subscription choices.  Customers can sign up for weekly, monthly or annual options, with the first level, the weekly option, pitched at just under £2.00 to attract the infrequent user.

Medical apps of the type offered by Isabel typically contain many thousand disease diagnostic markers both paediatric and adult and allow doctors instant access to the technologies that will help them make vital diagnoses.  Using a mobile diagnostic app a doctor does not even need to be in his hospital or clinic to diagnose a stroke in a patient and begin lifesaving treatment.  Using brain scan images that can be accessed via a smartphone and with an accuracy proven to be almost as reliable as the results of an ‘actual’ scan viewing, diagnosis can be made instantly.  This time saving ability is vital in the treatment of stroke victims.

Medical Apps – ‘Virtual’ Diagnosis?

Not everyone has welcomed this latest innovation in virtual diagnostics. There have been reservations concerning viewing detailed and complex anatomical images on a small 3.5-inch screen, from where critical emergency diagnoses will be made. However advances in image compression, microprocessors and wireless-data bandwidth, are likely to make this 21st century advance an essential diagnostic tool for doctors. For example, a CT scan image could be sent to a ‘cloud’ of the type that is commonly used as a storage device by PC users.  Downloaded to a mobile app or tablet, doctors could then zoom in to view images in more detail.  The use of this compression method to support any medical app is critical, in particular with the sending of high-resolution brain imagery.  Digital images are very large files to download and in a time sensitive situation such image files would take an hour to download using 3G or Wi-Fi.  Compression of the file overcomes this potential problem.

In countries where patients live in remote locations, this instant access diagnostic tool could prove invaluable.  In local or rural hospitals where medical staffing is limited, the instant access to patient’s results offered via this diagnostic tool, could also prove a lifesaver.

There is no doubt that this new application of technology will make a significant impact on the way in which doctors practice medicine both in and out of a hospital setting.   Gone will be the iconic picture of the consultant, clipboard in hand, with his entourage, visiting the wards.  In its place will be armies of medics with iPads and Android tablets that they can take home with them so that they always have a ‘virtual’ presence in their hospitals.

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Mobile health apps need new regulatory framework

Last month, a mobile phone app became the first of its kind to be registered by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) as a medical device.

The app was developed by the team at the Mersey Regional Burns and Plastic Surgery Unit and is designed to help medical staff assess burn damages. This neat bit of kit is listed by the MHRA as a class 1 medical device and is available for free in the Apple app store.

According to research, 81% of healthcare professionals own a smartphone and as a result the Mersey Burns app will no doubt be useful by sharing the specialist knowledge from the burns unit with their medical colleagues. However, the licensing of the app has raised all kinds of questions on the future registration of mobile phone apps for use in the healthcare professions.

On the face of it, registration is eminently desirable; in healthcare accuracy is everything, so it is important that diagnostic, treatment and monitoring apps are rigorously tested to ensure their suitability for public release. Unregulated mobile health apps have the potential to put the public at risk.

However there is concern, particularly in the US, that excessive regulation of mobile apps will vastly increase the costs of app development and slow market availability down to such an extent that the technology could be out of date by the time it hits the market.

As a result, on both sides of the Atlantic, web and app developers and healthcare and pharmaceutical companies are calling for a new regulatory framework which will allow the testing and processing of relevant mobile apps at speeds equal to the pace of rapid technological change.

Mobile apps on the rise in pharma

Pharmaceutical and other life science companies are becoming increasingly aware of mobile applications’ potential to boost the effectiveness of their communication.

According to Cutting Edge Information, a US company that provides management analysis reports, support services and consulting to pharmaceutical biotechnology companies globally, apps also hold the key to pharma digital marketing in the future.

Casey Ferrell, research analyst at Cutting Edge, said: “Apps for physicians hold the potential to revolutionise the way in which healthcare is administered.

“There are digital imaging apps for ECGs and radiological procedures; there are apps that improve emergency room efficiency; and there are apps designed to improve patient-physician interaction, including some that facilitate remote consultations.”

Other research from Cutting Edge Information study shows many early implementers of apps and mobile technology are now finding that the pre-launch commercialisation period presents the best phase for successfully utilising mobile pharma technology.

Ferrell said: “”I would argue there is an opportunity for the industry to shift its focus and look for innovative ways to use mobile technology to improve clinical development.

“From streamlining trial data collection and analysis, to connecting potential trial patients to investigators, the clinical development space is an opportunity for pharma companies to differentiate themselves from the pack.”

Internet and smartphone-based nursing can help diabetic patients

Nursing via the internet and smartphones can be an effective way to help patients with uncontrolled diabetes to manage their care.

According to a new study conducted by McGill University, Canada for the Public Health Agency of Canada, tele-monitoring is also increasingly seen as a workable way of delivering care to patients with chronic conditions who live in remote places, or who require monitoring on a long-term basis.

During the pilot project, diabetic patients in four regions of Quebec submitted their blood sugar readings to a nurse every day using a secure website.

Patients also answered a series of questions online about their exercise, diet and food care.

Their nurses then monitored their responses, providing appropriate advice as and when required. If a patient’s readings were a cause for concern, then they appeared in red text and triggered an alarm.

Nurses also emailed their patients educational material to help them manage their conditions.

Antonia Arnaert, professor of nursing at McGill University, said: “Patients with chronic diseases like diabetes, or who have gone through surgery, often have lots of questions and the doctors and nurses don’t always have the time to answer them.

“With tele-nursing, whether using video-conferencing or text-messaging, patients say they feel they get lots of attention from their nurses, because they know that they have their full attention for an hour.”

“They said that tele-monitoring provided them with a sense of confidence in their ability to manage their diabetic condition themselves.”

Ad-funded drug apps on the rise

The popularity of smartphone technology within the pharmaceutical industry is growing, and while some prefer to pay to receive services ad-free, an increasing number of US medical professionals are opting for a different business model.

Epocrates, the app that provides information on drug dosage, side effects and interactions, has seen a rise in the uptake of its free ad-funded version.

According to reports, plans for its development include a virtual sales rep for pharmaceutical companies to showcase their new products.

Pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer have already recognised the importance of putting their products literally ‘in the hand’ of the medical professionals within smart devices. Not only is this a more direct and measurable form of sales, but it can also create a better return on investment long term.

While the marketing messages offered in the free version of Epocrates will need to be refined to become more relevant to the user (as they currently have to be filtered  to get to the information requested), the launch of this type of app  introduces a new business model into the increasing mix of medical apps available.

Medical portal InPharm recently counted a total of 39 apps produced by the 11 largest pharmaceutical companies, across various markets and target groups.

Like Epocrates, the key to the success of smartphone apps will be the extent to which developers meet the needs of the specific medical groups by providing relevant content and timely propositions, so that an ad-funded business model doesn’t hinder their ability to access information they need to help their patients.

FDA to create new guidelines for mobile medical apps

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to propose new regulations for smartphone apps.

The regulations affect a small number of medical apps in the States and provide a clue as to how regulation might develop in the UK.

Around 150 medical apps have been produced to date. These include patient diary apps and calculators for those working in the health sector.

The FDA has now launched a three month consultation in order to devise how it will oversee what it calls “mobile medical apps”. It is focusing on the apps that could present a risk to patients if they fail to work as planned.

These types of apps include those which enable doctors to see medical images on an iPad with a view to making a diagnosis from them.

Other apps that could come under the regulations include those which allow doctors to use their smartphone as an electrocardiography (ECG) machine, apps that calculate the maximum dosage of local anaesthesia based on a patient’s weight and age and apps that collect blood glucose readings to help manage diabetes.

The FDA has already approved a small number of apps for use. These include a smartphone-based ultrasound device and a medical iPhone/iPad app that lets doctors view medical images and X-rays.

Bakul Patel, FDA policy advisor, said: “There are advantages to using medical apps, but consumers and health care professionals should have a balanced awareness of the benefits and risks.”