Using Apps and other software

If you can think of an ailment, concern or any aspect of your health and wellbeing which you wish to improve upon, you can be certain that there already exists an 'app' for it, there may be ten, a hundred or even upwards of a thousand; what is uncertain however, is whether such apps will work as advertised?  In the wake of unprecedented National Health Service (NHS) efficiency savings, increasing waiting lists and a looming shortage of trained medical professionals, those concerned with proactively managing their health and wellbeing are increasingly turning to mobile or 'm-health' and the use of unregulated apps.  This infant industry is quickly gathering momentum and with an estimated 165,00 health apps available for download as of 2015 [1], the convenience and widespread availability of mobile health solutions presents an accessible, affordable and inviting opportunity to empower those looking to actively manage their health.

Apps are presenting new and exciting opportunities for both users and the NHS, and represent a considerable opportunity for both patient and health service benefits.  As of 2015, it was estimated that 71% of Britons (45.5 million in total) owned a smartphone [2], 75% use smartphones or tablets to search for health information online [3], and over 90% would use mobile-health services to engage with healthcare professionals, in the event that these services were available [2].

Apps enable the possibility of making positive changes from the comfort of your own home, and not confined by the constraints of appointment times and waiting lists, can enable the treatment of thousands of individuals at the same time [4], with the treatment of one individual having absolutely no impact on the time and resource available to treat others.  The widely accessible nature of health apps also presents a flexible and pragmatic opportunity to improve patient access and extend the effective reach of healthcare, to those who, for one reason or another, are not currently able to engage with existing services.  This may include the teacher who is too anxious or stigmatised to discuss alcohol dependency face-to-face, the depressed army forces serviceman for whom a desire for anonymity is paramount [5], of the knowingly overweight and concerned single mother of three who struggles to schedule a GP appointment around her childcare and work commitments.

How Do You Know Which App to Use?

There is currently little independent review to ensure their effectiveness, safety or value to users and professionals and this can limit user and professional confidence.  The sheer scale of emerging apps in this key area also actively inhibits the use of these services, as patients, carers and their health and care professionals struggle to find the right solutions.  Finding a clear and trusted pathway through these congested waters is a critical enabler of any wider digital health strategy.

ORCHA (Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps) provides the solution.  It delivers a clear and robust approach to the review, validation and dissemination of these services and through this core capability, creates an attractive powerful and multifaceted digital health hub that patients, carers, health and care professionals and developers themselves are all able to utilise this critical agenda.  Further information can be found here www.orcha.co.uk


  • [1] IMS institute for Health Informatics.  Medicines Use and Spending in the U.S. - A Review of 2015 and Outlook to 2020.  
  • [2] Nuffield Trust.  Delivering the benefits of Digital Health Care. 2016.194
  • [3] Department of Health and UK Trade and Investment.  The UK: your partner for digital health 195 solutions.2015.  
  • [4] Leigh, S, Flatt, S. App-based psychological interventions: friend or foe? Evid Based Ment 205 Health; 2015, 18, 4:97-9
  • [5] Iversen AC, van Staden L, Hughes JH, et al.  The stigma of mental health problems and other barriers to care in the UK Armed Forces.  BMC Health Serv Res 2011;11:31
  • [6] Nicholas J, Larsen ME, Proudfoot J, et al.  Mobile apps for bipolar disorder: a systematic review of features and content quality.  J Med Internet Res 2015;17:e198