By Janet Morgan. 30 May 2019.
People are looking for apps that will help in challenging situations - sometimes at tipping points in their lives. Teenagers seek help about exam stress or bullying. Cancer sufferers look to find help with their feelings of distress and isolation. New parents want assistance with post-natal depression.
It is critically important that they have trust and confidence in the software - and that they know that it is clinically grounded, safe and secure.
I joined the programme 12 months ago, having come from a commercial background working in customer insight and brand development. I had limited public sector or NHS experience, but a real desire to contribute to something that would help make a difference. I guess this is the reason why most of us work in the NHS, even if it can be a challenge to achieve this at times.
User stories integral to app development
My first job was to find out about our users. I wanted to understand what they needed from the apps and digital tools we assessed, and where we should promote these apps in order to ensure they were accessible to users in the right location at the right time. I interviewed developers, health care professionals, patient groups and commissioners.
"I sat with a cancer patient in their home, hearing about the impact of the disease on their mental health and that of their family.
I also met cancer patients, pregnant women and new mums. I spoke to teenagers about mental health, and both men and women looking to get fit or simply wanting to lose a few pounds after Christmas.
I felt very privileged to be invited into people’s lives to hear their stories, which were often very difficult to hear. Listening to teenagers in high school talk about the issues they can face with exam stress, depression or bullying and how isolated they can feel when trying to cope was heartbreaking at times.
I sat with a cancer patient in their home, hearing about the impact of the disease on their mental health and that of their family. They wanted help with memory loss and the lack of control they felt during their treatment.
Frontline staff, such as social workers and paramedics, told us how apps could help support families of autistic children to manage difficult situations better. Staff can also monitor an elderly patient at home more effectively if they know that the app is safe and secure.
Safe and reliable apps are crucial
It was clear many people were looking for safe, secure and reliable apps which they could use to help manage very challenging situations. Understanding our users like this has made me realise just how important our assessment process is, helping us to provide safer solutions for a range of patients and health and social care professionals.
As well as end users, we are also continually consulting with developers to get their feedback on the development of the Digital Assessment Questions and Digital Assessment Portal. This is the online system launched on 20 May that will mean more effective and efficient assessments in the future.
We realised from our research with the patient groups that a key channel to surface the apps was on the NHS website's ‘conditions’ pages. This was often a first port of call for those wanting guidance on symptoms, conditions and treatment. We have now included some of those links and are continuing to work with the NHS website team to ensure this work continues as new apps come through our assessment.
The live launch of the online portal will increase the number of apps and digital tools being assessed by the NHS. Users and user research are key to everything we do, and looking back at the last 12 months I can see how much we have achieved and what a positive impact we can make on people’s lives.