March 24, 2023

In 2020, app shops added more than 90,000 new digital health applications (apps), or more than 250 new apps on average per day. 1 Digital health apps range from offering a platform for services like virtual medical visits and managing chronic diseases to consumer health applications that assist consumers in managing their own health through recording daily steps and accessing exercise and dietary regimens.

The COVID-19 pandemic hastened the uptake of digital health applications, which may contribute to the development of a preventative, digital-first future of healthcare. TM However, there are moral and legal matters to take into account.

There are more than 350,000 health apps accessible from different app shops worldwide.

What effect has COVID-19 had on adoption?

The pandemic contributed to the growth of apps that operate as vaccine passports, lateral-flow test results managers, and symptom checkers. Numerous new and current digital health solutions have assisted citizens in reducing some of the negative effects of COVID-19 on their health.

With the help of these apps, people may now check their overall health indicators, interact virtually with doctors, and remotely monitor and treat their symptoms or conditions.

Users in England have been able to view their medical information, do health assessments, schedule and conduct video appointments.

Order repeat medications thanks to the National Health Service (NHS) app, which makes use of independent digital platforms.

Additionally, the app offers a collection of reliable health symptom and diagnosis information as well as immunisation documentation (acting as a COVID-19 vaccine passport for travel).

NHS app users have ordered about 3.2 million repeat prescriptions and scheduled more than 268,000 medical appointments between June and September 2021, making it the most downloaded free app in England (increasing from 200,000 users in January 2020 to more than 16 million in September 2021).

Healthcare App management

This rise in usage is consistent with patterns observed in health and fitness apps. Compared to 2019, time spent on apps climbed by 25% and app downloads by 30% in 2020.

5 This strong uptake is anticipated to continue after the pandemic, as evidenced by the rise in investment financing, which will reach a record $24 billion globally in 2020 and an increase in average deal sizes to $45.9 million.

Health-condition management, rather than wellbeing management, is becoming more and more the focus of health apps (the percentage of such applications increased from 28% in 2015 to 47% in 2020).

By removing social stigma and the hardship of going to an in-person appointment, a growing body of research demonstrates that these platforms have enhanced accessibility. They are also making access easier for people who have previously avoided in-person counselling.

What steps is the UK taking to address ethical and legal issues?

Approximately 88% of health applications have the capacity to gather and maybe share user data. This makes the administration and security of data a crucial ethical issue that necessitates adherence to legal requirements. 10

Health apps have the potential to develop into a more effective and individualised source of important health data due to its ability to collect a wide variety of personal data. This could be extremely helpful in promoting early disease identification and diagnosis as well as assisting clinical decision-making using technology. To reach their full potential, however, it is necessary to enhance siloed data systems and data analysis techniques while protecting user anonymity.

In order to provide staff, patients, and the general public confidence that the apps they use are secure and well-made.

The Digital Technology Assessment Requirements (DTAC), which was officially released in February 2021, establishes national, concrete, baseline criteria for digital health technology. 11

The healthcare app development company revised its MHRA App Guidance in June 2020, asking developers to reevaluate their compliance with the rules and the classification of their goods as medical devices.

The new medical device restrictions may apply to 12 applications like symptom checks, ones that help with diagnosis, track skin-care imaging, and ones that help with reproductive health.

Boosting the regulatory obligations and data collecting guidelines for such apps.

The existing lack of privacy policies in 28% of apps puts users of mobile health apps at danger.

13 In order to assist patients and the general public in finding reputable health and wellbeing apps. The NHS App Library will evaluate apps in accordance with strict criteria.

14. Additionally, NHSX introduced the What Good Looks Like framework, which offers principles to aid NHS trusts, in August 2021.

15 This framework outlines the fundamental structure that the NHS should have in place. In a safe digital infrastructure, this can assist guarantee that digital systems cater to the needs of their workers and patients.

Additionally, it can help to build on the advancements made in the adoption of digital tools during the pandemic and support the digitization of NHS services.

What do health apps have in store for the future?

Clinicians are working more efficiently because to digital health apps. They are also enhancing patients’ comprehension and treatment of their illness while facilitating better access to guidance and support. According to our paper, Predicting the future of health care and life sciences in 2025.

Digital diagnostic and treatment paradigms will likely empower physicians and patients in the future. Additionally, we forecast that value-based care would be significantly aided by medtech and other relevant health applications. These advancements can help deliver 4P medicine when combined (medicine that is predictive, preventative, personalised and participatory). 16

We anticipate that health apps will be crucial in enabling patients to take control of their health through digitally enabled care pathways, extending access to healthcare software development services, and raising engagement and awareness in the health and wellness of larger populations. Evidence-based health apps will probably be incorporated into well-established clinical treatment pathways with the goal of boosting access to specialised.

When appropriate, individualised therapy while also enhancing the outcomes of present treatments.

They enable remote monitoring, therapy, and surgery, as well as remote medication administration.

All of which can assist cut down on travel for patients and clinicians.

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