Where next for NHS health apps after ‘all-singing, all dancing’ one is scrapped?

The much-vaunted NHS health app – described in the long-term plan as being the health service’s ‘digital front door’ – is being dramatically reframed, it has emerged.

It is increasingly recognised that patients need online access to key services, particularly the ability to access their health record. However, there had been questions about whether, in an age of consumer choice, one app could ever be all things to all people, as well as whether an NHS ‘all singing and all dancing’ app was that solution.

Now it seems that the newly inaugurated NHSX body responsible for the future of technology and innovation in the NHS has reached its conclusion.

However, there are many encouraging things to take away from new NHSX chief executive Matthew Gould’s blog explaining the decision.

These include the need for the NHS to work with innovators and NHS APIs to seed a patient-centric ecosystem, with the aim of building services which help people interact with the NHS in a way that suits them.

In his blog, Mr Gould said: “We will keep the app thin and let others use the platform that we have created to come up with brilliant features on top.

“We will expose the APIs, so that other people can develop their own apps to meet their own user need — apps that can plug in, safely let people access their own data and deliver a different user journey.”

He added: “This approach – creating the platform, and letting other people innovate on top of it – will ensure a continuing evolution of products available to our citizens and patients. It will mean those products will respond far faster to user need than we ever could and will provide more features and uses than we could dream up.”

So what does this mean for the future of apps and health record access in the NHS?

The innovation community has long championed the need for open and interoperable systems to enable health technology evolution. Many of the capabilities behind the NHS app have existed for many years – and the key now is for the NHS to simplify access to them.

Other NHS organisations across health and social care also need to be pressed to open up data to patients by taking an “API first” approach.

APIs are the digital glue which enable apps and services to talk to one another and to enable innovation, so it is crucial that these are open and accessible to patients, as well as those developing innovative health services.

The needs and desires of patients who increasingly live the rest of their lives alongside digital apps and services are higher than ever.

But the UK is in a relatively unique position with both a national health service and many passionate innovators with a wealth of expertise.

By opening up the data and enabling ‘data mobility’ using technology such as digi.me’s market leading Private Sharing ™ platform, patients are empowered with their data, which enables them to make more informed and transparent choices about treatment and services.

This is something we have seen come into force in the US, with openly published specifications, sandboxes and the ability for citizens to direct the exchange of data between their healthcare provider and the apps and services they choose. Around the world,  including in the EU, we are now seeing health economies increasingly moving in this direction. This enabling of consumer directed ‘data mobility’ alongside or sometimes instead of traditional organisation-centric interoperability, will be necessary in a global digital eco-system.

Of course, beyond this patients need to understand the nature of the apps and services with which they share their data, the quality of these, and the safety and efficacy behind them. Orcha is the market leader here, validating 100s of apps and providing an ecosystem to help patients find the right services for them, as well as providing healthcare with the means to “prescribe” technology.

It has long been the belief that the building blocks of an ecosystem of innovators, technology, apps and service for patient-centric healthcare already exist, and with NHSX coming into being, we could be on the dawn of a new era where the NHS truly embraces industry and innovation.

This all hinges, of course, on the ability of the health system to open up its data, giving agency to patients and enabling them to use the apps and services they choose.

However, the payoff for doing so would be truly groundbreaking.

Opening up the data to empower patients to make informed choices about the services they engage will inspire a new generation of digitally enabled citizens and stimulate innovation to make the NHS a leader in digital health and wellbeing.

As digi.me demonstrates, the technology exists, so the next steps are primarily an issue of people, politics and process.

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