Approximately 120 apps are currently being evaluated by NHS Digital and two external assessors against key standards to be added to an NHS resource of trusted digital health and care tools for patients, citizens, healthcare professionals, and commissioners.
The NHS Apps Library currently includes 75 different apps and tools. The assessment process, which looks at clinical safety, accessibility, usability, and technical stability, along with other areas, can reportedly take from one to three months, depending on their functionality.
NHS Digital is working with third-party evaluators Our Mobile Health and ORCHA to manage demand. However, the apps that have been evaluated so far have all failed to get through the assessment the first time.
“One of our big learnings is that apps that you might assume would be at the level that you’d expect them to be aren’t, and they [developers] have to go away and spend a few months remediating to get to that level, which means the app assessment process can take quite a few months to get through,” Hazel Jones, NHS Digital Programme Director, said at the HIMSS UK Executive Leadership Summit this week.
With more than 320,000 health apps available on major app stores, according to a report from research2guidance, Jones said NHS Digital was in discussions with Google and Apple to create a specialised category for apps already assessed against their standards.
“What we found is young people, for example, tend to go straight to the app stores themselves, they wouldn’t necessarily think to check on the NHS website. What we’ve tried to do is look at all those different routes that people use to find information or advice, and one of those is of course directly through the app stores,” the director told HIMSS TV.
NHS Digital is also looking to formalise an "approved external assessor agreement" to enable other third-party evaluators to register and join the process, initially mentioned by Jones back in February, when plans to "create a set of approved assessors" were revealed.
“When we started this out, we carried out the assessment within NHS Digital, and we still do to some extent (...). But what we found was that we couldn’t really cope with the demand of app developers that want to go through that process, so we noticed really that there were app assessors that were already out there in the market place, offering an assessment service and an apps library."
Meanwhile, an online assessment portal has been created to help developers understand the requirements that their tools would need to meet before they go through a full evaluation, which is currently in private beta.
“We’re hoping to move that to a public beta next year,” Jones added.
The portal will also create an opportunity to integrate the library with the NHS App, expected to be gradually rolled out across England starting from December this year.