UK to encourage doctors to prescribe health apps

By Brian Dolan
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NHSIn an effort to cut down on unnecessary doctor office visits, the UK's Department of Health plans to ask general practitioners and physicians working at hospitals across the country to encourage their patients to use mobile health apps to track biometrics and symptoms. According to various reports in local newspapers, the Department of Health claims that some 15,000 NHS patients are already using mobile health apps that transmit such information to their physicians. The apps are used by pregnant women, and people with cancer, diabetes, heart problems, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The information transmitted from patients using the apps will be monitored by healthcare providers who will urge patients to visit their doctor or nurses immediately if an abnormal reading comes in, according to a report in the DailyMail. The Department of Health hopes to save the NHS "millions of pounds" assuming the apps help cut down on unnecessary visits. Health ministers also contend that more frequent monitoring will help providers keep tabs on patients so that their condition, which will make it less likely that their condition's will suddenly deteriorate and require a trip to the emergency room.

According to a report in the Telegraph, the health minister claim that about 25 percent of the people who use the NHS Choices website and app visit their physicians less frequently as a result. In November the NHS Direct app announced more than 1 million downloads.

"So many people use apps every day to keep up with their friends, with the news, find out when the next bus will turn up or which train to catch," the UK Department of Health's Secretary Andrew Lansley said in a statement. "I want to make using apps to track blood pressure, to find the nearest source of support when you need it and to get practical help in staying healthy the norm. With more information at their fingertips, patients can truly be in the driving seat."

Lansley assembled a list of 500 apps and tools that the NHS plans to recommend physicians prescribe to patients, but the NHS is looking to hear feedback from the UK public on which apps they think should be included. The government said the apps should be free or cheap to use, according to the Telegraph report.

One of the apps helps people with food allergies avoid reactions by using their smartphone camera to scan food barcodes and receive alerts and warnings when an allergen is an ingredient. Another app on the list is from Diabetes UK and it provides people with reminders about checking blood glucose levels and taking their diabetes medications. The list includes apps for post-traumatic stress, breast cancer screenings, blood pressure trackers, and more.

The Telegraph asked Phil O’Connell, an IT specialist at the Department of Health who developed some of the apps for the list. O'Connell told the publication these apps did not intend to "replace clinical judgment." He also said the apps actually reduce anxiety among healthcare providers since they can better detect when a patient's condition begins to worsen.

Big (and obvious) questions remain: How will physicians and nurses sift through the information streaming in from all these mobile health apps? How accessible will these apps be for the elderly? Will the encouragement of physicians to use these apps be enough to change the health habits of patients in the UK?

More over at the Telegraph and the DailyMail

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NASA astronaut Scott Kelly checks out the Microsoft HoloLens aboard a space station on February 20, 2016. The device is part of NASA's project Sidekick, which is exploring the use of augmented reality to reduce crew training requirements and increase the efficiency with which astronauts can work in space. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)