NHS England launches library for accredited mobile health apps

By Jonah Comstock
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Ieso Digital Health, one of the apps in the NHS's new library. Ieso Digital Health, one of the apps in the NHS's new library.

The National Health Service in the UK is taking steps to create a curated database of government-approved mobile health apps, starting in the area of mental health. NHS England launched a library of five approved apps on its NHS Choices website, which gets 40 million visits per month, according to the NHS.

As a large public health system, NHS struggles with waiting lists for health services including mental health. So they've aggressively looked to mobile health as a way to connect people to health services more efficiently. NHS began publicly evaluating mental health apps in February 2013, when they published a discussion paper on the subject.

“We want to offer people the chance to use apps and digital tools routinely to help them take control of their own healthcare," Tim Kelsey, the National Director for Patients and Information, said in a statement. "There are online services already working for patients and we hope, by giving them our official backing, we will give clinicians, citizens and carers the confidence to use them. Digital platforms have a key role to play in improving access to psychological therapies and helping us meet our ambition of achieving parity of esteem for mental health services.”

Right now, the site has five vetted online resources: Beating the Blues, a CBT-based computer self-help course for anxiety and depression; Big White Wall, an anonymous, curated social network for people dealing with depression; FearFighter, a CBT-based self-help course for phobias; Ieso Digital Health, which offers live CBT therapy via secure instant messaging; and SilverCloud, an online platform that offers programs for different mental health conditions. The site offers descriptions of each program, instructions for accessing them, and a link to the clinical evidence that the program works.

The plan is to add additional mental health apps over time, as well as to eventually expand into other mobile health areas. NHS chose mental health to start because of a large base of evidence that these interventions are effective, they said in a press release.

"We’ve made great strides in the past few months by investing millions in talking therapies and eating disorder services. There is £1.25 billion in this year’s budget for children’s mental health, increased investment to help support veterans and new initiatives to help people on benefits get back into work," Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said in a statement. “But I know there is much left to do, which is why innovative pilots like this are so important, helping to provide treatment and support for those experiencing mental health crises. This showcases the NHS at its best -- pioneering new ways of treating and supporting some of the most vulnerable in our society, harnessing innovative technology to help build a fairer society for us all.”

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