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GPs to ‘prescribe’ apps

Published on 11/11/14 at 04:02pm
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General practitioners in the UK are to begin ‘prescribing’ health apps as part of a move to better monitor issues such as weight and lifestyle, according to media reports.

In a strategy due to be announced this week as part of Personalised Health and Care 2020, the NHS will allow the most relevant apps to be branded with the NHS logo, some of which could then be recommended to patients, says the Daily Telegraph.

Tim Kelsey, national director for patients and information at NHS England, is quoted as saying that this kite marking means app developers would be able to “take advantage of the trust people have in the NHS brand”.

The government has already spotted the potential for apps with health themes: a year ago it set up a £2 million competition to get developers interested in producing apps to tackle alcohol abuse and weight gain.

Apps are seen as a potentially useful means of engaging people more in thinking more about their own health, rather than relying on the state to do it for them.

This attempt at attitude shift was embodied in the creation of Public Health England, which was set up specifically to ‘nudge’ rather than nag people into healthy lifestyles, preventing illness and promoting healthy living – as opposed to treating sickness, as mainstream NHS services do.

Remote patient monitoring is an area of healthcare which is starting to fire the imagination of providers, as ageing populations are increasingly required to manage and monitor their own conditions.

Recent research from Frost & Sullivan suggests that mobile telehealth could create ‘doctor-in-your-pocket’ convenience for patients – and perhaps take pressure off health services.

However, the value of existing health apps has been questioned: a report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics concluded that most apps focus on diet and exercise - rather than addressing the greatest areas of need: patients over 65 who have multiple chronic diseases.

It found that more than 90% of apps directly related to patient health and treatment on the Apple iTunes app store had limited functionality - and most are barely looked at anyway, with only five apps accounting for 15% of all downloads in healthcare.

Adam Hill

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