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Importance of a ‘Tried and Tested’ approach to identifying trustworthy technology to help those living with Parkinson’s


Not all apps are created equal, as Julie Bretland, founder of Our Mobile Health, explains. When dealing with the complex symptoms of Parkinson’s, it’s crucial that potentially helpful apps are rigorously tested in order to take the guesswork out of some difficult choices

There’s an increasing awareness of the potential benefits that health apps and digital tools can deliver, from helping individuals take control of their own health and conditions, and the additional choices they can provide to healthcare professionals. Benefits will only be realised, though, if the health apps that can be trusted are identified and made readily available to those who can benefit from them.

The estimated 145,000 individuals in the UK living with Parkinson’s can now access a first-of-its-kind apps and devices library containing fully reviewed digital tools which are particularly relevant to those with the condition and can assist the daily management of this degenerative neurological disease.

Seeking guidance

Health apps, of which there are upwards of 325,000 to choose from across the major app store platforms, are readily available for people to browse and download, so why has this bespoke app library been created?

Parkinson’s UK was increasingly being contacted by members of their community for advice and guidance about apps and devices that people had seen. The charity realised they needed to be able to provide consistent and informed advice based on a reliable review and assessment of such tools. As the leading charity for Parkinson’s, they needed to be able to make recommendations with complete confidence and to develop a strong voice in this area and start to lead the way.

There are more than 40 symptoms related to Parkinson’s, including those affecting speech, swallowing, mobility and mental health, and technology can play a huge role in those areas where there is no specific medical solution as yet. The initial apps in the library cover a range of symptoms and include ‘Swallow Prompt’ (swallowing), ‘Voice Analyst’ (speech), Pzizz (sleep), Kindeo(wellbeing), Cove (mental health) and Beat Panic (anxiety).  Users can also use app such as Voice Analyst, to record and capture data to share with health professionals, helping to make the time they spend with health professionals more informed to help management of their symptoms.

The need for thorough review

When it comes to identifying those apps which are trustworthy, popularity does not necessarily equate with the most trustworthy. This is exactly why Our Mobile Health was set up, to pioneer the robust review of health apps. Our Mobile Health has been instrumental in developing the most rigorous review process in the industry today, using experience from the field of mobile health technology and in-depth knowledge of regulations and requirements.

The thorough review process used really ‘lifts the lid’ on an app. Using an initial in-depth questionnaire of approximately 500 questions, followed by review by a panel of independent experts, apps are really put through their paces. Apps are reviewed thoroughly across ten key attribute areas including technical stability, usability, privacy, security, interoperability and clinical evidence. Only apps which meet all the required criteria are identified as trustworthy and this is what provides the confidence to recommend them through curated app libraries, such as the one developed for Parkinson’s UK.

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Developers of apps taking part in the process for the Parkinson’s UK library also benefitted from feedback via an end user testing element to the process. Apps and devices having passed review by Our Mobile Health were then tested by members of a user panel comprising individuals living with Parkinson’s for ease of use, relevance and usefulness. This provided great real-world feedback for the apps by the very people they were intended to help, hence a ‘Tried and Tested’ bespoke library.

Such additional insight was invaluable to developers. Speech tools who created ‘Swallow Prompt’ and ‘Voice Analyst’, both apps in the library, explained it was ‘…invaluable to have such a large focus group of people willing to use our apps and give us feedback… so that we can address each person’s feedback and continually improve our apps over time to be as useful as possible to people with Parkinson’s.’  Connecting those who design apps and devices with those who will ultimately be using them to provide feedback and help shape design and development is crucial to helping increase the quality and effectiveness of digital health apps and devices.

Relevant choice

It’s also important to provide choice and not just stop at the first one that deals with a particular symptom or health problem. There will not be a one-size-fits-all solution as each individual will have their own experience and challenges posed by their symptoms. Furthermore, for those living with Parkinson’s, new symptoms can manifest at any time. Providing a consistent trustworthy source of health apps that individuals can refer back to as their circumstances change, provides an additionally valuable and reliable resource.

Julie Bretland

Leading the way

The work to create a dynamic and bespoke resource, based upon a rigorous review process, has real value to help those living with Parkinson’s on a day to day basis navigate the bewildering number of health apps and devices that are available. Those working with Parkinson’s are quite right when they say they ‘… believe technology will make a real difference to how we live with our condition’, and it will be through identifying and making readily available the right tools that work for them that this will be truly realised.    Parkinson’s UK are leading the way in harnessing the potential of digital tools to help their community manage their condition effectively to improve daily life.  The need to identify and recommend appropriate health apps and devices will not be unique to Parkinson’s UK and the hope that this new ‘Tried and Tested’ apps and devices library will help lead the way for other charities to create similar resources to help their communities identify and engage with trustworthy digital health tools.

How we do it

Our Mobile Health employs a robust industry-leading review process to identify trustworthy, relevant and engaging mobile health apps which can be recommended and used with confidence for managing long term conditions and better health outcomes. Our Mobile Health runs the UK’s first curated mHealth app library, providing the ‘best of the best’ apps that can be recommended, used and socially prescribed. Working with healthcare providers and organisations, we develop bespoke mHealth libraries which are tailored to the needs of the people they serve, and only contain apps that have passed the rigorous review process. We work with the entire eco-system in digital health: clinicians, app developers and publishers, healthcare organisations, government organisations, charities and the EU to create an environment where safe and effective apps are developed and deployed. And we have partnered with some of the most trusted brands in healthcare to provide bespoke libraries of fully reviewed and curated mobile health (mHealth apps).

About the author

With well over 100 years experience between us, we've been around the editorial and medical blocks a few times. But we're still as keen as any young pup to root out what's new and inspiring.

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