New Health Secretary calls for greater use of apps in the NHS

Matt Hancock claims mobile applications will improve care and reduce workload

New Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has called for the NHS to use more apps to deliver services.

Speaking to BBC Newsbeat just days after he announced a £487m NHS technology boost; he called for greater use of mobile applications when providing care.

The healthcare sector as a whole has a great opportunity to use readily-available building blocks of consumer-based technology to streamline innovation from the ground up

He said apps were ‘more convenient’ for patients and clinicians, making the lives of doctors and nurses easier.

And he described the daily technology used by millions of Brits such as Amazon’s Alexa as one of his three main priorities in his new role, which he took on two weeks ago after Jeremy Hunt left to become the new Foreign Secretary.

He said the use of technology is an advance the NHS ‘must harness’, a mantra he has taken forward from his six-month stint as Digital Secretary.

He told the show: “One of the things I’ve done is make sure the Government is tech-savvy and digital.

“There’s loads of that to do in the NHS, both so that the NHS is more convenient for you as a patient, but also to help clinicians so that doctors and nurses lives are easier using the same sort of technology that you and I use all the time and applying that to the NHS.”

By using digital technologies to take a more-collaborative approach to application development, healthcare organisations in general, and the NHS in particular, can remain relevant to the ever-evolving demands of patients while also delivering more with limited budgets

Hancock has designed his own app to broadcast his activities in Parliament and in his own constituency.

And he told the Health Select Committee yesterday that NHS England is reviewing the rules and regulations on future technologies that harness and use patient data.

Safe and secure

Commenting on the plans, Winston Bond, senior technical director EMEA at Arxan Technologies, warned that the NHS needed to ensure apps were safe before rolling them out. He added: “

“Users of mobile health apps and IT decision-makers with insights into the security of mobile health apps feel their mobile apps are adequately secure. In fact, most feel that app developers are doing everything they can to protect their health apps.

“However, perception is not reality. Most health apps have significant vulnerabilities. And the impact for healthcare organisations and health app users can be devastating.

“The NHS is exactly the kind of organisation that needs mobile application management (MAM).

“NHS trusts and hospitals are autonomous, and they each have their own way of controlling devices and distributing apps. This means there is no single, convenient, centralised way to deliver apps on clinicians’ mobile devices without making them available to anyone through the public app stores.

“This is where MAM comes in; to enable the controlled use of apps within the organisation for those who genuinely need them.”

A lack of skills

And Nick Ford, chief technology evangelist at Mendix, warned that a lack of IT skills in the health service, and a limited budget, could also scupper the plans.

He told BBH: “Innovative applications that drive engagement with patients and staff, in addition to boosting productivity, can certainly go some way to giving NHS services the support they need. Yet, there persists a major challenge in developing and acquiring the right technology given the NHS’s limited budget and difficulty in attracting specialist technical skills. The NHS will need to find alternative approaches that work around these deficiencies.”

Innovative applications that drive engagement with patients and staff, in addition to boosting productivity, can certainly go some way to giving NHS services the support they need

He added: “The healthcare sector as a whole has a great opportunity to use readily-available building blocks of consumer-based technology to streamline innovation from the ground up.

“Low-code application development is one way to build, manage and adapt applications quickly and with minimal coding skills.

”With the ability to contribute in a visual and intuitive way, low code opens up the development process to anyone involved in a digital transformation project including the nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals on the frontline.

“By using digital technologies to take a more-collaborative approach to application development, healthcare organisations in general, and the NHS in particular, can remain relevant to the ever-evolving demands of patients while also delivering more with limited budgets.

“They just need the right digital mindset to embrace this transformation cost-effectively and at a scale.”

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