This month’s mobile apps round up – and our final round up for 2020 – features news that the Ask NHS App has helped streamline access to flu vaccinations and Superdrug has become the first high street retailer to offer a mental health app.

Ask NHS App streamlines access to flu vaccinations

More than 1,000 NHS patients were able to book flu vaccinations using a virtual assistant from digital health company Sensely.

The pilot project, run in collaboration with GP practices in Buckinghamshire, Brent, and Greenwich, allowed patients to use the Ask NHS app to self-check eligibility and quickly make appointments for flu jabs.

Adding vaccination information, a self-service eligibility check, and booking functionality to Ask NHS lets patients quickly get the information they need and make appointments without having to call their clinic.

Designed in partnership with NHS nurses, the tool also allows high-risk patients to be prioritised based on symptoms or underlying health issues, improving access to vaccinations for vulnerable patients while easing the strain on healthcare providers.

Dr Arun Notaney, a GP at Premier Medical Centre in Brent, London, said: “The Ask NHS app has been invaluable in allowing us to streamline our operations during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Giving patients the ability to book via the app, rather than calling, has really improved the patient journey, and left our phone lines clear for patients who need to speak to a doctor rather than just to book a flu jab.”

New study reveals disparities among health apps

A peer-reviewed study lead by digital health company Ada has found disparities in coverage and accuracy among symptom checker apps.

The study, published in BMJ Open, tested the coverage, accuracy and safety of the eight most popular online symptom assessment apps and found that the performance of apps varies widely, with only a handful performing close to the levels of human GPs.

To ensure a fair comparison, the study used 200 ‘clinical vignettes’ – fictional patients, generated from a mix of real patient experiences collected from anonymised transcripts of calls to the NHS 111 telephone triage service.

The vignettes were reviewed externally by a panel of three experienced primary care practitioners to ensure quality and clarity and to set the list of ‘gold standard’ correct conditions and urgency advice level for each case.

They were then entered into the eight apps by eight external GPs playing the role of ‘patient’. Each app was tested once against every vignette. Seven external GPs were also tested with the vignettes, providing preliminary diagnoses.

Human GPs were included to provide a benchmark by which to assess the apps.

Dr Claire Novorol, co-founder and chief medical officer at Ada Health, said: “When used in a clinical setting to support – rather than replace – doctors, they also have huge potential to reduce the burden on strained healthcare systems and improve outcomes. This peer-reviewed study provides important new insights into the development and performance of these tools.

“In particular, it shows that there is still much work to be done to make sure that these technologies are being built to be inclusive and to cover all patients.

“We believe this is vital if symptom assessment apps are to fulfil their potential: human doctors don’t have the luxury of cherry-picking which patients they help and digital health must be held to the same standard.”

Superdrug launches mental health app service

Superdrug has become the first high street retailer to launch a doctor-led mental health consultation app with the aim of helping people start their journey to the right mental health support.

MindCare from Superdrug Online Doctor is a new app offering people a doctor-led video consultation where they can openly and confidentially discuss their mental health. The doctor will work towards a diagnosis for a person’s condition and guide them to support that matches their needs.

The cost of the service is £70.

In the app Superdrug is also signposting to two emotional support charities, Shout and Samaritans, to provide free support for anyone who is struggling to cope to ensure they get the help they need.

Dr Zoe Williams, Superdrug health ambassador, said: “We all have mental health, in the same way that we all have physical health and both need to be looked after and nurtured.

“It is a very difficult time for so many us, and with Superdrug’s research showing that the mental health of two thirds of people (66%) continues to worsen due to the pandemic, it is great to hear that they are responding the needs of their customers by creating the Mindcare app and doctor consultation service, to support and guide people with their mental health needs.”

More Brits turn to health apps

New research from online provider Pharmacy2U reveals that more Brits than ever before are turning to technology to manage their health, with apps to track fitness, monitor sleep and deliver medicines all soaring throughout the pandemic.

The research found there has been a 25% increase in people using health apps since the first lockdown, with the average person now storing 3 health apps on their smartphone.

Data released by Pharmacy2U reports that there was a 101% increase in its app downloads since March 2020, with almost 350,000 people signing up to get their medicines delivered to their door for free since the first lockdown began.

About 1 in 5 Brits use fitness tracking apps such as Strava or Nike Run Club, while 1 in 5 Brits also use calorie tracking apps. Some 19% of those surveyed use a sleep monitoring app, while 17% use a repeat prescription ordering app.

A third of those surveyed believe health apps help alleviate strain on the NHS, while almost one in five say they trust health apps more since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mark Livingstone, chief executive of Pharmacy2U, said: “Technology has transformed industries from retail to travel and is continuing to make a significant impact on healthcare and personal health management.

“The last nine months has been unlike anything we’ve ever experienced – the pandemic has led to an all-round greater need for technology, including apps, to meet the change in demand from patients.

“Technology and automation are a key part of our business. Gone are the long waiting times, issues with repeat medication, or language barriers. Instead, technology has meant the process of ordering and receiving medication is more inclusive, sophisticated and consumer friendly.”