Putting the application into ‘app’


Apps help us live better – from navigating our way around London, booking a cab in a foreign city or tracking physical activity. But can, and should, apps do more?

Bupa has launched a smoking cessation app, in partnership with University College London, which not only supports quit attempts but uses data to understand, over time, behaviours that support or obstruct cessation – leading to improvements in service provision in the future.

GSK has launched an app for people with asthma – nothing especially new about that necessarily, except that MyAsthma is registered as a medical device, meaning it aims to actually improve patient outcomes, not just provide information and support. And from a research perspective, GSK is now also using Apple’s ResearchKit app to study how arthritis affects patients in real time.

Apps have the potential to be powerful tools to generate insight or drive real, measurable change, and not just among younger digital natives. Smart phones and tablets are massively accessible to people of all demographics or even with mobility issues – tapping images being easier than using a keyboard.

But when considering an app, it’s critical we ensure a target audience will not just download it, but will use it, and use it often. It needs to add to their life, not be a burden.  Many people with long-term health conditions do not want to view themselves as ill and would avoid an action which reminds them of their condition, and this is where it’s critical to get creative – how can an app be configured to be about more, or not just, or even not at all about their health. Is there a smarter way of driving interactivity and data capture than simply asking the user to input numbers? Look at Pokemon Go – the data it captures on user activity levels is interesting.

There is so much more that can be achieved for people managing health conditions, people looking to making health-related changes and those around them. Understanding the impact of these apps as they achieve widespread adoption will enable us improve design for the future – really giving meaningful control back to people and transforming them from passive ‘patients’ to partners in the management of their care, even if they don’t know that what they’re doing.