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UK Tries Again With a Library of Certified Mobile Health Apps

The UK's National Health Service has relaunched its Digital Apps Library. The four-year project has produced only one approved mobile health app, but officials say the library will grow as more are certified.

Source: ThinkStock

- After four years of wrangling, the UK’s National Health Service has unveiled its library of certified mobile health apps – containing only one approved app.

The NHS Digital Apps Library is designed to showcase mobile health tools that are certified by the NHS, while a companion site, the Mobile Health space, will be a resource for mHealth developers looking for NHS guidelines and projects.

Unveiled on April 10 in what officials are calling a beta test, the library features one approved app, myCOPD, along with two apps addressing mental health issues, Cove and Chill Panda, that are still being tested. Another 21 apps are listed on the site as “safe to use,” though they haven’t yet been certified.

“Our vision is for NHS.UK to host leading healthcare apps so they are accessible and trusted by the public,” Juliet Bauer, director of digital experience at NHS England, and Rachel Murphy, delivery director at NHS Digital, said in an accompanying blog. “The new digital tools pages on NHS.UK have been designed to showcase a selected number of apps while we test our thinking. Each tool has been through an assessment and is safe to use.”

“Over time, people will start to see more apps appearing that are labelled ‘being tested in the NHS’ or ‘NHS Approved,’” Bauer and Murphy said. “These products have been built on a solid evidence base and are part of an NHS programme, monitoring and collecting data and evidence of effectiveness towards positive patient outcomes.”

The two NHS officials said the Mobile Health space, found at Developer.nhs.uk, “is aimed at the developer market that is rich with talent and striving to create digital products that will offer valuable healthcare benefits to patients.”

“We are setting the quality standards that the NHS can hold all digital health and care products to, laying the foundations to build a truly transformative digital health service,” they said. “Developer.nhs.uk sets out this ambition and will allow the market to mature their products in this environment.”

The library and developer site mark an important step in a program fraught with difficulty. The NHS had launched the NHS Health Apps Library in 2013, but closed the site two years later after a study published in BMC Medicine found “poor and inconsistent implementation of privacy and security, with 28 percent of apps lacking a privacy policy and one even transmitting personally identifying data the policy claimed would be anonymous.”

The authors of that study, Paul Wicks and Emil Chiauzzi – employees of PatientsLikeMe, which had a free clinical trial matching tool listed in the NHS Health Apps Library – noted mHealth apps can be and are being reviewed by journals, organizations or commercial sites like iMedicalApps, but the best bet may lie in a government program.

“In order for medical apps to evolve, improved oversight and continuous quality review is required,” they wrote. “Centralized oversight by regulatory bodies has the advantage of regulatory expertise and powers to sanction. However, these regulatory bodies are too under-resourced to wade through the sheer volume of apps and there appears to be little appetite to get involved.”

With its latest launch, the NHS appears to be taking that approach again.

“It’s important that we do this right and so everything we have launched today is being done to allow a thorough live testing period and we will be gathering feedback from users through an inbuilt capability on each of the platforms,” Bauer and Murphy wrote.

“Over the next six months, we will be working collaboratively with commissioners and the market to understand the proposition to patients of securely connecting digital innovations to patient health records,” they concluded. “Data driven technology can ultimately help clinicians deliver smarter care, allowing them to understand when interventions should be given and when they work.”

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