Dr Chris Mimnagh: We need evidence on the effectiveness of health apps

Right now in the NHS apps are being prescribed or recommended to patients. But do we have the evidence of their effectiveness, asks Dr Chris Mimnagh.

The NHS Apps Library has recently removed two apps promoting private providers of general practice (DOI I do sessions for Babylon). This highlights an issue I've been banging the drum on for a while. Technotherapeutics does not yet exist in a way that we can use in a daily basis.

The people behind NHS Apps Library had applied their criteria and those apps passed. The fact they promoted an alternate supplier was outside the remit of the analysts.

In pharma terms it was the equivalent of one company promoting another's drugs.

Right now in the NHS apps are being prescribed – in most cases with nothing more than an anecdotal 'I tried this, now you try this' approach.

We wouldn't tolerate this with drugs.

There are organisations such as ORCHA (the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Applications) accrediting apps as passing certain standards of digital and clinical usage, which is the equivalent of the MHRA saying a drug is safe, but no Cochrane review because there is no data in a controlled form.

There is actually a huge amount of data in the app about how it is used, but also in the effects recorded in mobile devices. For example, if you download an activity app does your activity increase? The phone knows. We just don't ask for that data.

It's part of our responsibility as clinicians to ask, possibly demand, evidence of effectiveness for apps, otherwise we are just electronic quacks – come to think of it, I'm sure there's an app for that.

  • Dr Chris Mimnagh is a GP in Liverpool and head of clinical innovation liaison and deployment at The Innovation Agency, the academic health science network for the north-west coast.

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