Inside HETT’s healthcare technology forum

Inside HETT's healthcare technology forum
© iStock/MartinPrescott

SciTech Europa attended the ‘Healthcare Excellence Through Technology’ forum on the expectations and opportunities of apps in the NHS.

At the beginning of October 2019, SciTech Europa Quarterly attended the ‘Healthcare Excellence Through Technology’ event in London. One of the ‘Digitally Empowered Patients’ forums was entitled ‘expectations, opportunities and experiences of apps in the NHS’, where SEQ were in attendance. The forum featured Head of Design at NHS Digital, Matt Edgar, Implementation Lead of the Maternity Transformation Programme at North West London Collaboration of Clinical Commissioning Groups, Helen Maric, and the Director of Digital Development at NHSX, Sam Shah.

To begin, Maric mentioned how “in the last two-three years we have been working on a large scale business transformation programme with funding from an agency. As part of the work that we’re doing, we have been doing a wide service user engagement about how to improve services and make things better for patients. What came up out of that is a very strong need for us to be able to provide consistent, evidence-based, locally relevant information to our population.” Maric then when on to say that “the best way of doing this would be to create a digital tool to enable the women and families to have this information and to have it at their fingertips. We developed a collaborative project where we came together with midwives, doctors, psychiatrists and people working in the field of maternity and early years, to develop how we wanted this app to look and what we wanted it to do.”

Committed to collaborative systems working, Maric has been instrumental in bringing a diverse range of service users, maternity and allied workforce together to support the system wide implementation of Better Births (2016) recommendations. Within the digital arena, she led the team in the design and build of the North West London Mum & Baby app – a personalised digital toolkit to support women and their families through pregnancy, birth and beyond. The app has been widely applauded for incorporating the recommendations of Better Births and is now being made available across England for other regions to personalise to their local needs. Maric said: “We have 400 new users a week. We have provided a single point of access to services; all of our women are offered the option of creating a personal care plan and they can share those platforms with their midwife and doctor.”

It’s time to think more about the user

Edgar then went onto discuss the importance of developing applications for industry: “We tend to end up with a gap between apps that we know are safe and effective, and those that people use because they find them shiny and appealing. We need to close that gap because we need to do both. We need to be able to have things that people choose to use but also have ones that are supported by the clinicians that they’re working with.” Edgar stressed that the keyway to achieve this is by starting with the user’s needs. He said: “We do this so we can understand what individual users of the service are going to need. Understanding user needs is fundamental through research and, directly informing patient services.”

Shah added: “There are 380,000 Health apps out there globally. We have to begin with asking ourselves why this is, and what is it about these apps that are getting used? Is it that there’s a big marketing drive and a lot of money being pushed behind it, or is it because they fulfil a need?” Shah went on to reflect on the numerous applications that have been presented to him overt the years, and how it is fundamental for him to “think about what the need is today and what the need is in the future. We have to ask ourselves what the need is, and what is the outcome we are looking for. Quite often people think that if it’s a great idea then there is a need for it. However, the world is changing. By next year, we won’t be using a smart device to browse the web. We will be using a voice activated device and several other channels – no more touching the screen. As a result, the apps that we are producing right now are built for yesterday’s world. We really have to ask ourselves, what is the need we are trying to fulfil, and will that need still exist in the same way in five to 10 years’ time – what is the life cycle of what we are currently developing?”

Shah concluded the talk by mentioning that when it comes to apps in healthcare, it’s not just the patient’s medical needs we need to think about. We also need to consider accessibility and ease of access. The forum raised the point that there is no need for there to be 20 apps when there can be one compact application that does it all. Shah said: “We have to think about the full set of users and the needs for their journey. Typically, one thing I tend to see is the single vertical products that get produced with the lack of evaluation, not just around the cost effectiveness but also the utility. The service design has not really been done in its utility and his is a fundamental problem – we need to get people moving away from finding an app or technology and to start thinking about the full set of users.”

Disclaimer: This article is featured in the December issue of SciTech Europa Quarterly.

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