Hazel Jones, NHS Digital’s director for apps and wearables, hopes that her work will speed up the diagnosis of life-threatening conditions and provide an early warning system to people who may be at risk.
Ms Jones, who is a Leeds-based technology professional with more than 20 years’ experience, told The Yorkshire Post: “I hope that we save lives. I lost one of my best friends, who was diabetic. She had moved from animal insulin to human insulin. She went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up again.
“If she had been wearing a device connected to her phone, that could have alerted her by an alarm to let her know when her sugars were getting low or too high. She might have lived.”
Ms Jones said the NHS Digital team in Leeds aimed to give patients and carers access to apps (a software programme that can be used online or on mobile devices) that can be trusted to help them find relevant information about their health.
She added: “Rather than go away and build our own apps, we look at apps that are already out there in the marketplace, but then take them through an assessment process.
“We assess them across nine different categories. We look at things like privacy, data protection, usability and clinical indicators of effectiveness.”
The apps usually have to be modified before they can be approved and added to the NHS app library.
Ms Jones said: “It’s the equivalent of three people that carry out the assessments.
“We’ve been working with the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) and other regulators.”
So far 44 apps have been approved by the NHS.
Ms Jones added: “We work with NHS England to review the clinical value of the app and then we carry out technical assessments.
“It then gets the stamp of approval to be an attributed app. It covers things like mental health and maternity.”
The policy of adopting existing apps is a more efficient use of NHS resources, according to Ms Jones.
The digital team, which has 12 members, is also joining forces with businesses that have the experties to carry out assessments on their behalf.
Ms Jones added: “We’re looking for ways to offer more choice. We’re inviting businesses in that want to be assessors on our behalf, so we can improve the volume.”
The work being carried out by the NHS Digital team in Leeds is already gaining recognition in the UK and overseas.
Health professionals in Scotland and Ireland have visited Yorkshire to study the team’s work.
Ms Jones said: “We also welcomed a delegation of health industry professionals from Sweden. More recently, we’ve been contacted by Australian and Japanese professionals who have come to Leeds because they’ve heard we are leading the way.
She added: “We’ve got a text service that children can use to contact their school nurse. There are things they would rather place in a text than say face to face. We’ve got websites on there as well as apps.”
Although the team has been focusing on apps, Ms Jones plans to extend its scope to include wearable devices.
Ms Jones added: “The innovation is already out there. Once it has been given the NHS seal of approval, not only will we be sign-posting patients to it, but we will also build a mechanism for the health care and social care professionals to have a means of starting to introduce these tools and devices during a consultation.”