iPhone ten years on – appiness?
Ten years ago, the iPhone launched, moving mHealth into a new gear with trusted apps recommended by patient groups.
- through directories, research, toolkits and websites PatientView and myhealthapps have aimed to connect individual patients with trusted apps recommended by patient groups
- patient groups have become more confident in creating, commissioning and recommending health apps
- apps have moved from pushing information to truly integrated eHealth solutions.
From brick to click
I am writing this on the 10th anniversary of the iPhone’s launch, and around 20 years after the birth of the first generation of smartphones. If you go back 30 years, I was working for the then mobile phone operator Cellnet, now O2.
Although some were still sceptical about the switch from analogue to digital technology, each year brought a fresh new digital breakthrough. We were giddy with excitement celebrating a call, I think from a row-boat, from a Finnish lake to the UK.
By the end of the 80s, the buzzword was integration. We would be freed from bricks that could only do voice calls, the future was about using your phone for SMS, music, photos and emails.
Of course, I could not even afford to buy a mobile phone then, let alone pay the expensive call charges. But I doubt that even the most optimistic technophile could have predicted the impact the child of this digital integration – the smartphone – would have on our lives, and our health.
Patient groups supporting patients and carers
By 2012, five years on from the launch of the iphone, it was already:
- clear to us that patient and carer organisations needed a channel to get their views heard about apps
- very hard to find trusted, reliable, useful apps from among the tens of thousands streaming out.
Over the last five years, PatientView and myhealthapps has taken action to help people find apps recommended by patient groups and organisations, including:
- 2012: Published the 1st European directory of health apps recommended by patient groups
- 2013: Launched white paper `What do people want from health apps – a survey of 250 patient and consumer groups’ [Link: https://alexwyke.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/health-app-white-paper-to-go.pdf]
- 2013: Launched website myhealthapps.net to make it easy for people to find apps recommended by patient groups
- 2014: Published a toolkit to promote digital health literacy and build confidence about finding and using health apps `Health apps: a toolkit to help you’ [Link: http://we.tl/cGgC7agO9Z]
- 2015: Published the updated `myhealthapps directory 2015-2016’
- 2015: Launched white paper `What do patients and carers need in health apps, but are not getting’, analysing the views of 1,130 patient and carer groups worldwide [Link http://we.tl/aSZW2lydGi]
- 2016: Contributed to the European Commission Working Group on mHealth Assessment Guidelines.
Patient groups doing it for themselves
Over the last ten years, venture capitalists and big developers have moved into the field. App development moved out of the bedroom and into corporations. Yet, the technology creates a level playing field.
There are genuine digital heroes in the patient groups around the world. One early pioneer in health apps was in fact one of the smallest rare disease groups. At a time when the group was literally working from their founder’s coal-shed, the UK’s ITP Support Association, launched its first app.
We featured the app in our directories and on our website, not only because it addressed the very scarce information needs of people with immune thrombocytopenia, but because it sent a very clear message. App development is not just something for the big patient groups – whatever your size, you can do it.
From information to integration
In rare diseases like ITP, access to trusted information will always be key. But what about mainstream conditions, like diabetes? In the early years, the market was flooded with ‘me too’ apps, pushing the same information as on many websites. Gradually, apps stood out by helping patients to act on this information, sometimes linked to data from medical devices, or from the patient’s own recording of results.
The truly great apps reach out from the phone to integrate with how the patient manages their health. It’s impossible to single out a single app from the last ten years, but at every digital event I have been to, if you say ‘mental health app’, someone will mention `Big White Wall’.
By coincidence, the Big White Wall project is also ten years old. It started with real bricks when its founder, Jen Hyatt, set up a project in one of London’s disadvantaged housing estates.
The local community:
- painted their homes white
- were encouraged to express on the walls their thoughts about living on the estate through words and pictures.
Ten years on it is a fully integrated health solution. For example, it:
- is an app and online platform to offer a safe and anonymous route to mental health support and recovery
- provides personalised support to aid recovery, clinically facilitated 24/7
- is registered with the UK’s Care Quality Commission (CQC) and used by the National Health Service.
Given that most internet use is now via smartphones rather than desktops or laptops, it is vital that patients can use their phones. A huge amount of work has been done in recent years to improve smartphone accessibility for people who otherwise would face barriers from their conditions.
For example, apps that can help people with impaired dexterity, co-ordination or a visual impairment to get the most from their smartphones.
Looking back, one of the early pioneers in smartphone accessibility was the award-winning app from the Czech Republic, Big Launcher. It picked up a Vodafone award in 2011 for helping elderly or visually-impaired people to use their android smartphones. It has gone through a number of versions since its launch, but still uses big buttons and large fonts to represent all the basic functions of the phone – telephone, SMS messages, camera, gallery, SOS button and installed apps.
Are we appy?
Ten years on from the iPhone launch, it is clear that hardware and software have improved incredibly fast. But patients and healthcare systems are constantly playing catch up. Digital health literacy is still challenging for many of the patients who need apps most.
30 years ago, sitting in a mobile phone company, this was all a pipe-dream, and in another 30 years, in my 80s, where will mHealth be?
It is fitting that on the iPhone’s 10th anniversary that the appropriate wedding gift is tin or aluminium. They are key to the technology we are wedded to. Looking to the future, we are unlikely to get divorced from our devices, and in fact, it’s a union that looks ever more united.
Download key research papers from PatientView and myhealthapps.net…
Find out more about the Big White Wall app, and how it works…
Find out more about the ITP Support Association, and their plans for a new app…
Patient group reviews of the Big White Wall can also be found on myhealthapps.net…
Find out more about the Big Launcher android app at…
Patient group reviews of Big Launcher can also be found on myhealthapps.net…