NHS England boosts apps development

Organisations unveil Digital Tools Library and developer website, with further developments in the pipeline

NHS England and NHS Digital have intensified the effort to develop healthcare apps with the launch of two digital platforms, one as a source of digital tools and the other as a space for developers.

Person using smartphoneThe NHS Digital Tools Library, currently in its beta phase, includes a selection of apps that have either been approved by the health service or currently being tested. The organisations said all those available are safe to use.

The choice reflects areas that have been identified as needing digital tools to support healthcare. Among those available are Silver Cloud for helping to manage anxiety, OWise to keep track of treatment for breast cancer, and BMI calculator to measure and track body mass.

The organisations are planning for more apps to be added to the website as they are developed and assessed.

Developers.nhs.uk is an online space for providing access to health data, development tools and a testing facility for any apps. Further features including validation and authorisation functions are due to be added soon.

Vision to transform

Juliet Bauer, director of digital experience at NHS England, and Rachel Murphy, delivery director at NHS Digital, said: “Our vision is to transform the way people experience the NHS, by designing digital health tools and services that connect them to the information and services they need, when they need them.

“We want to enable people to access care in a convenient and coordinated way, through the digital tools that all of us are now familiar with in other areas of our lives.”

They said the Developers.nhs.uk site will become the primary marketing platform where digital intervention is required, and that they expect the tools and guidance to mature over time, contributing to the Digital Standard for Health and Care.

Over the next six months the organisations are going to work with commissioners and developers to assess the possibilities of connecting apps to patient health records.

The move comes 18 months after NHS England closed its Health Apps Library, following a study by Imperial College London that identified shortcomings in some and said there were systematic gaps in compliance with data protection principles.

Questions

Bauer and Murphy added that the organisations have also published a set of digital assessment questions, developed with a group of partners, to make up the new NHS Self-Assessment for digital tools due to be released later in the year.

“Our work is iterative and based on user needs,” they said. “We need to understand how people interact with the tools available to them; what they find complicated; or what they are willing to use and gain benefit from. 

“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.”

Various NHS organisations have pursued their own initiatives in app development, such as Imperial College Healthcare Trust’s plan to implement an API for clinical apps.

Image from Victorgrigas, Creative Commons 3.0 through Wikimedia