After the furore over Fitbits, NHS bosses must beware slick salesman punting unproven digital health ‘toys’ as it gears up to invest in apps for patients.
Last week we heard the perhaps unsurprising news that health app ‘toys’ such as Fitbits, which have become all the rage in recent years for people wanting to find a fun way to fitness, are not the magic bullet some hoped they were.
he UK media covered a university research paper which revealed that many fitness apps sold in the UK have no evidence-base for the claims they make towards helping people achieve better health.
This is a timely warning. The National Health Service in the UK will soon be able to apply for extra Government money to invest in making digital apps available to patients, and the danger they could be taken in by unproven widgets being touted by slick salesman is not insignificant.
It’s not that NHS bosses aren’t canny, of course. However, this is simply a major step into the unknown for many in the UK’s revered, but financially embattled health service. The risk of being sold something that promises to deliver huge savings while improving health, but is based on nothing firmer than a good sales pitch is very real.
That’s why I and the Changing Health academic team at Newcastle University are so driven and passionate about the painstaking and solid evidence based approach that has led to the development of our self-management app for people with chronic conditions.
Our initial education and coaching programme for people with Type 2 diabetes, which we will be showcasing to the cream of the global tech industry in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress Digital Health and Wellbeing Summit this week, has been developed following years of clinically and scientifically rigorous research by the world renowned team at the University’s MoveLab, in partnership with the Newcastle Foundation NHS trust.
My colleague Professor Mike Trenell was part of the team which discovered that Type 2 diabetes could be improved or even reversed with changes to diet and activity levels, Now he and the Changing Health team are applying that knowledge and understanding with the goal of benefitting as many people with the condition as possible.
Changing Health app uses scientifically proven behaviour change techniques, including the ability to create goals, make specific plans and self-monitor by tracking physical activity directly. All of these can be easily accessed by patients, once referred by a doctor, on their phone, tablet or desktop computer anytime. Crucially, patients also receive regular scheduled contact with a specially trained coach to help them stay on track towards their goals.
Our method is proven through the UK’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and Medical Research Council (MRC) funded research to reduce weight and blood sugar levels (HbA1c), which is they key to staying well for people with Type 2 diabetes. For instance, research shows that just one per cent (or 11mmol/mol) reduction in HbA1c means they are 14% less likely to go on to have a stroke or heart attack, and 43% less likely to need a leg amputation.
Diabetes care costs £10billion a year in the UK alone. We know that 80% of that spend goes on treating conditions that develop due to unchecked worsening disease - such as heart attacks and amputations. This unnecessary cost could largely disappear once our programme is embedded.
What’s more, we have pinpointed the precise factors through which we can stratify patients so that treatment can be tailored to their individual needs. This has the potential to create a four fold improvement in efficiency of care by delivering programmes which suit individual needs.
We are due to launch very soon in England in partnership with several NHS organisations, and are actively exploring market opportunities with strategic partners to expand our footprint, launching on Continental Europe with an insurer in Q2.
I am at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona today, presenting our vision at the Digital Health and Wellbeing Summit. Message me at firstname.lastname@example.org or @johngrumitt on Twitter if you’re keen to find out more.
Written by Changing Health
John Grumitt is CEO of Changing Health. He has type 1 diabetes and leads a full and active lifestyle - including completing last year’s mHealth Grand Tour from Brussels to Barcelona. John is Vice President of the International Diabetes Federation and Vice President of Diabetes UK. In 2013 he was appointed to the NHS England Commissioning Board Diabetes Clinical Reference Group. John is managing director of award-winning advisors Metapath (www.metapathsolutions.com), and is a chartered accountant who attended Wharton Business School.