Guidance on how to commission, develop and acquire medical apps in the UK has been developed by the Digital Health and Care Alliance.

Sponsored by the North West Coast Academic Health Science Network, the guidance aims to help doctors and patients decide which apps to recommend or use. Also, to help developers create apps that comply with regulations and that are useful to the NHS.

The work was carried out in response to research by Charles Lowe, the Alliance’s managing director, into the reasons why medical apps were not being recommended to patients by clinicians. This is despite there being more than 100,000 healthcare apps available.

“The main reason for this was lack of confidence in the efficacy of medical apps, underlined by the absence of any NICE guidance on the topic,” Lowe said.

“A further issue is the uncertainty and doubt among app developers and commissioners as to the steps necessary to commission and develop medical apps in line with the many different regulatory considerations.

“Although most developers were aware of medical device legislation, the research revealed that many were unaware of the personal data privacy regulations, or of the need to have evidence of efficacy, before advertising health-related benefits.”

The guidance covers ‘medical apps’, which includes regulated medical devices and other “serious apps” that are expected to have a significant impact on improving a user’s health and wellbeing. 

"Only in putting all this information together has it become apparent quite how daunting the task of covering the topic is so, in producing this first version, DHACA is asking all readers please to feel free to draw our attention to further aspects of medical apps that need covering," the report says.

Declan Hadley, digital health lead for the North West Coast AHSN, believes apps are going to become an increasing part of patient care in the future.

“The guidance is an important part in the process to ensuring the apps we use are developed in partnership with patients and clinicians and are safe and secure,” he said.

Rowan Pritchard-Jones, consultant in burns and plastics at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, worked with a former Army medic to produce the Mersey Burns app: the first app to be recognised as a medical device and the overall winner of the EHI Awards 2013.

Commenting on the new guidance, he said it would be welcomed by busy healthcare professionals looking to improve efficiency. 

“There is a lot of digital innovation in the North West and there’s a lot we can do with apps to support patient care. But we have to know that it is keeping patient data secure and reinforcing good habits in information governance. We need to be driving good practice," he added.

“Also, clinicians need to be at the heart of developments to make sure new apps remain clinically relevant to patient care. If it is created for the NHS by the NHS then they are likely to be good."