There is so much technology available to help support young people in terms of mental health. Universities could do more to make sure students have access to appropriate technologies by being more actively engaged with technology providers. Some universities will provide mental health support, including access to mentors. This is expensive though.
Apps like Kooth by XenZone, for example, are more peer driven and could be more effective if actively promoted by universities. This BBC report shows a very patchy picture of support across universities in the UK. Some students do receive mental health support but this is often inconsistent. Clinically validated apps like Brain in Hand are sometimes available to students with pre-diagnosed conditions. The reality is that apps like these are not always deployed effectively and the investment wasted.
More could be done, especially for students who develop mental health conditions once at university.
The BBC recently reported how data from health apps could be fed directly into patients records. A report from PwC has suggested £4.4bn could be saved by the NHS going “paperless” and the government has already said it will put aside £4bn for the NHS.uk website IT project which will allow patients to book appointments, access medical records and potentially compare services in a number of clinical areas such as dementia, maternity, cancer treatment and others. Although this seems a win-win all round as a “cost neutral” initiative with improvements in patient experience as an output, there could be problems ahead with a key group: the frail elderly.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported in 2015 the number of people in England 100 years old or more has increased by 72% in the last decade. This indicates a fast growing group which does not typically have access to technology or finds it difficult to use. The ORCHA health apps review platform is interesting to take as example of the issue with access to a changing NHS-led digital health landscape. ORCHA is attempting to offer a clinically sound review process for all published apps, but only on Google Play and iOS. This makes sense; these are the two only valid options for users of smartphones and tablets, but it highlights the fact that without a device able to access one of these app stores, patients are unable to be part of this revolution in health care.
New devices, aimed directly at frail elderly groups who have limited capability for using the current generation of smart devices because the are too complicated or difficult to read, would open up the digital health revolution to patients in this group.
The other important factor is that app developers focus on this growing population group when building new apps.
Care apps for the elderly could disrupt the tech industry obsession with youth according to The Guardian. In an article looking mainly at US statistics and investor behaviour, the article poses interesting questions about the drive behind demand for apps aimed at social care that will resonate with anyone involved in app development in the medtech sector here in the UK. Telecare is a key area in several important reports on challenges for the NHS such as the 2016 Health Tech report by Nuffield Trust and at the new future for social care conference by The Kings Fund for example. There will be a big challenge for app developers looking to exploit the gap between traditional sectors where apps development is familiar territory and health care, where there is a high degree of regulation and long development timescales are common.
It can take between 12 and 15 years to bring a new product to market within NHS supply.