Cutting through the app: How can mobile health apps meet their true potential?

Sep 19, 2018 | REPORTS

This report examines the evidence for the potential of apps to promote positive health behavioural change in the UK population.

This report examines the evidence for the potential of apps to promote positive health behavioural change in the UK population. After a thorough evidence review of academic and grey literature, the sourcing of case studies and original analysis of the Understanding Society dataset, this report finds:

  • There are a number of app-based innovations that could benefit individuals – and health systems
  • This report identifies several health apps that have been proven to reduce unhealthy behaviours such as excessive alcohol consumption and increase positive health behaviours such as a healthy diet and physical exercise. If these positive health behaviours are continued across large population groups, this could have a positive impact on non-communicable disease prevalence rates.
  • Best practice apps include Gray Matters, that has been shown to improve health behaviours that can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s in older adults, and Step Away, that has been shown to effectively reduce heavy alcohol consumption.

Our original data analysis has identified several population groups in the UK that could benefit from effective health behavioural change apps. These include:

  • Nearly 1 million ‘baby boomer boozers’ who are over 60, drink frequently and use a smartphone.
  • 760,000 ‘living fast, dying young’ who are under 40 and smoke, drink frequently, have a smartphone and regularly use the internet.
  • 5.7 million people who ‘just need a push’ and who eat healthy and don’t smoke, but drink moderately and rarely exercise.
  • 2 million ‘connected, healthy and young’ who eat well, exercise frequently and regularly use the internet.

These population groups, if able to easily access clinically effective health apps, could improve their health and provide much needed cost savings for the NHS. However, there are considerable barriers that are preventing health apps reaching their full potential. The proliferation of digital technology means that the best-practice, effective health apps are often being drowned out by poor-quality, ineffective apps. Accreditation is needed to distinguish effective apps from ineffective apps.

Commenting in the launch of the ILC-UK report, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Health apps can be revolutionary for patients who need quick and easy access to GP and other healthcare services. I want to encourage more innovation in this sector, so that we can build an ecosystem of enterprise that ensures NHS patients and staff can access the best technologies first.”

Sally-Marie Bamford, Director of Research and Strategy at ILC-UK, said: “Healthcare technology is progress. In ten years times we’ll be talking about how technology has transformed health. Health apps are of particular promise to support the NHS due to the democratising effect of the smart phone. However, there are challenges in how current apps are monitored. Evidence demonstrates that consumers want guidance to discern which health apps are relevant to them. What we really want is clarity and personalisation, particularly as tech becomes so ubiquitous.

“This ILC report looks at how health consumers can quickly and easily identify which healthcare apps will provide best practise for them and provide guidelines on seeking the relevant ones for their healthcare needs. This is a challenge for everyone concerned from NHS England to web developers. An efficient health application system needs to not stifle innovation yet provide comprehensive and relevant information”

This report forms part of the work of ILC-UK’s Health and Wellbeing Innovation Commission Inquiry, supported by Audley Villages and EY

Report authors: George Holley-Moore and Dean Hochlaf