Will UK Healthcare Apps Ever Catch Up With the US?

The healthcare app market has boomed in the US but the UK is still lagging behind. Ayesha Salim investigates where the problem lies and whether the NHS will ever catch up.

The healthcare app market has boomed in the US but the UK is still lagging behind. Ayesha Salim speaks with Scott Hague, Development Director of Integrated Change, a medical app development company, to talk about where the problem lies and whether the NHS will ever catch up.

“I think we are at least two years behind. It’s slightly different if you look at the economics of both markets,” says Scott Hague, Director of Integrated Change. I am speaking with Hague on the phone about how the UK healthcare app market compares to the US.

The US healthcare system is led by the private sector and has more cash to play around with. Patients have speedier access to treatments and use of more advanced technologies.  The UK on the other hand is a socialized system of healthcare, one that is open to all. But there is a price to pay for everything and whilst the NHS is often praised for its ‘access to all’ appeal it means its patients suffer longer delays and less advanced technology.  

But according to Hague, the problem doesn’t just lie in technology.

“We are not that far behind in terms of technology. We are much further behind in terms of mindset. In America patients are very much customers and that’s how they are seen and are treated,” Hague says.

Technology aside, the way the US is practicing medicine is radically different from the UK.

“In the States 50% of prescriptions are repeat prescriptions made via a mobile device. Think about the impact that would have on the system here in the UK if that was the case.  It is a very simple change but it is a behavioral change that we need to withstand,” Hague adds.

Hague tells me that in the US there is a smartphone app for diabetes patients, called BlueStar that is available by prescription only. Furthermore, patients in the US actually want their doctors to prescribe them apps. A survey found that 90% of chronic patients in the US would accept a mobile app prescription from their physician as opposed to only 66% willing to accept a prescription of medication.  

Can we envision doctors someday prescribing apps here in the UK?

Hague laughs: “Not anytime soon.  In private healthcare it might be different as adoption rates are probably a bit quicker. But there has to be a reason – if a doctor does prescribe an app what are they replacing? Are they replacing a particular drug or treatment? If they are replacing something with mobile technology what is the cost/benefit?”

The NHS is making steady progress in helping patients utilize apps to manage their health.  It has set up a library of smartphone apps that have been clinically approved for patients. The need for healthcare apps to help patients manage chronic conditions, such as Parkinson’s and diabetes is also starting to gain recognition. This November saw digital health startup uMotif win a total package worth $200,000 at CISCO’s BIG (British Innovation Gateway) Awards in London.

Hague created Integrated Change 18 months ago but he has been in the digital space for over 17 years.  He provides solutions that try to solve genuine problems in the healthcare sector. This could be anything from raising awareness of conditions to reducing admission rates. He has worked with Parkinson’s UK in helping patients manage their condition through mobile technology. And has worked with Mardeno, a medical publishing house, to improve one-to-one engagement levels between clinician and patient using the iPad.

“We are not just a development studio. We look at the whole picture and are always thinking 18 months ahead.” For Hague, the most exciting element in his projects is in changing business processes as they go - something he never anticipated doing.

“That is an advantage of looking at technology to solve the problem and [throughout the process it may] also fix many issues that may not have been identified [before],” Hague says.

It is easy to think that the US healthcare app market is further ahead than the UK. But the US is not without its own challenges.  A recent study analyzing more than 43,000 healthcare apps in the Apple iTunes app store found most of them to have limited use, with most apps doing little more than providing information. Even physicians in the US are reluctant to use apps unless there is integration with an EMR system.

When I ask Hague why healthcare providers in the UK are reluctant to adopt apps, he tells me it is a mixture of fear about the unknown and a need to understand that patients are more mobile than ever. Now both the FDA and NHS have the unenviable task of balancing innovation with patient safety.


Ayesha Salim is e-Content Writer at IDG Connect