The Pursuit of Appiness

As we get caught up in a digital healthcare revolution I’m wondering: how can consumers pick through the thousands of health and wellbeing apps on offer to find the credible ones that work?

More and more of us own a smartphone and have to admit to being somewhat addicted to it, unable to resist checking in to our favourite social sites or having a quick turn on the latest addicta-game every time we have a nanosecond to spare. But mobile apps also have the potential to help us feel better too. It seems obvious that something so integral to our lives and always at our fingertips is the perfect channel to create self-improvement and health apps. But how can consumers pick through the thousands of health and wellbeing apps on offer to find the credible ones that work?

Many consumers will first of all look for trusted brands. Weightwatchers launched its app last year, and has finally found its feet with a whole new audience of younger ‘leading edge’ type dieters who don’t want to go to the church hall meetings and engage with the old fashioned agenda. Instead they latch onto the tracking tools and online database of recipes and points values. The interface is almost game-like and suits the emerging mentality of ‘working on a level’, which a generation of computer gaming has inculcated. Adding social features is another way that health apps can have a greater impact and ‘stickiness’. Lose It, a free weight loss app lets you connect with friends who use the app and keep tabs on each other’s progress.

Apps are also being developed to help people cope with and manage serious health issues. The ActiveME app is an award-winning example of an app commissioned by the NHS as part of its innovative practice initiative. ActiveME was developed to help patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME keep track of their activity levels – a key part of rehabilitation and self-managing this chronic condition. Dr Esther Crawley from the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases (RNHRD) NHS Foundation Trust, the Northern CFS/ME Clinical Network and leading tech/design agency, Indigo Multimedia, developed the ActiveME app.

ActiveMe App

Indigo Web Director Andy Graney says, “We were tasked by the NHS and other healthcare partners to develop an app that would help CFS/ME sufferers combat the ‘boom and bust’ energy cycles that make the condition so debilitating and unpredictable. By adapting activity monitoring charts to smartphone technology and enabling data recording and visual interpretation, we created an interface that patients can personalize in a useful and empowering way.”

Winner of the ‘Innovation in Technology’ award at the NHS Innovations North Bright Ideas awards, ActiveME is a prime example of the genuine potential that mobile apps have of making a positive difference to people’s wellbeing.

One user says, “As a severe sufferer I find this app invaluable in tracking what I’m doing, especially as my memory is so terrible at the moment. The reports are also very useful.”

The main problem for consumers is how to judge the quality of the product on offer. Apart from peer and user reviews, which can be potentially unreliable and biased, how is the public to choose between the hundreds of apps on the market when 43% of health apps available in iTunes were rated ‘garbage’ in a study by the Washington Post.

The NHS is developing one answer to this quality control question. Its Health Apps Library, launched in March 2013, offers a growing number of NHS-endorsed health apps for a range of conditions from Diabetes to Dementia. Lou Wilson, Delivery Manager for NHS England Clinical Networks, says, “The NHS Health Apps Library is finally a way for the public to find safe and trusted health apps, which have been through a clinical safety and quality vetting process. We hope it will make it easier for people to manage their health.”

Find out more about the ActiveME app 

Take a look at the NHS Health Apps Library 

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