Digital Tech for a Healthy City — Event Recap

A glorious sunny evening and an unusual venue for our May 18 One Health Tech meet-up in Manchester.¬†Sarah Thew does a thorough recap below ūüôā

Our venue, the Manchester Institute of Health and Performance

The theme for our May meet-up was ‚ÄėDigital Tech for a Healthy City‚Äô, and the choice of theme was certainly influenced by our venue, the Manchester Institute of Health and Performance, a world-leading site for research and treatment in health, sports and performance, run by HCA, who kindly sponsored the evening.

Whilst there are hundreds of medical apps to support health and care, at present the general population is far more likely to be engaging with tech through the use of sports and well-being apps; Strava has over a million active users, MyFitnessPal claims 150 million registered users.  When I’m not doing my day job, I teach yoga and my phone is full of useful apps: meditation timers, guided relaxations and ambient music.  There is a huge interest and appetite for apps to help us better manage our own physical and mental health, and that was a common theme for many of our speakers this evening, along with examples of gamification, and a discussion about its appropriate use.

We started the evening with a tour of the building and a chance to check out (but sadly not try out) some of the incredible sports and health technology. This includes cryotherapy chambers, an amazing 3D performance hall with a running track and football pitch, and my favourite -  a huge environmental chamber allowing recreation of temperature, humidity and oxygen saturation levels from anywhere on earth.  This allows athletes in Manchester to train in the conditions they would experience at Everest base camp, Cape Town South Africa or anywhere in between. Everyone came back to the lecture theatre convinced that, if we could only spend a week or two here, we’d be hopefuls for Tokyo 2020.

We kicked off the talks with Christine Hart and Mirela Noble from HCA Healthcare UK.  HCA run the Manchester Institute of Health and Performance, along with Manchester City Council, Sport England and City Football Group, and also operate a number of private and NHS hospitals.  Christine and Mirela both have senior technical roles and talked through some pretty impressive stats on gender parity in HCA Healthcare.  Christine highlighted their community outreach programme that allows female members of staff to act as mentors to young women considering a career in tech.

Some of the CHAMP Trumps cards ‚Äď everyone wanted to take a pack home!

Next up, we heard from the Manchester CHAMP programme, based out of Manchester University Foundation Trust.  CHAMP helps parents engage with their own child’s growth and health, as part of the national child weights and measures programme.  Sarah Vince-Cain described the motivations and history of the programme, and talked about their ambitions to create meaningful engagement with both parents and children, before handing over to Ben Green.  Ben highlighted the over-use of gamification in apps (lots of nodding in the audience) and talked about the reasons why the CHAMP project was a good place to make use of a top-trumps style card game to help young children effortlessly learn complex nutrition information as they play. I’ve recently started playing Paw Patrol Top Trumps with my four-year-old and can confirm it’s a brilliant way to accidentally learn more facts than I ever wanted to about the TV series, so I can see the CHAMP Trump cards working very well!


Screenshots from the BeeActive app

We then heard from two speakers who described different programmes to get people walking and moving more.¬† BeeActive helps residents of Manchester walk more. ¬†Charlotte Stockton Powdrell who manages the project describes how the app nudges people with personalized walking cues tailored to their goals and activities.¬† As the ‚Äėgamesmaster‚Äô, Charlotte sets challenges for people to participate in, where they compete alongside other BeeActive users. There are big plans for BeeActive to expand with location sensitive exercise prompts as the Internet of Things technology is rolled out in central Manchester.


Stephen Melia from Connected Health Cities then talked about CityMoves, a pan-Northern England project to get people moving, with the four Connected Health City regions (North West Coast, Greater Manchester, North East and Yorkshire), competing to see who could clock up the most steps.  The project had almost two thousand participants, which seems very respectable, but the team had hoped for higher numbers.  Stephen talked about the challenges of running this programme, highlighting communications, managing sponsor and partner expectations and user experience as important considerations. It’s engaging and valuable to hear someone talking about a project where not everything went quite to plan, and it’s helpful to learn from their experiences.


The CityMoves Flyer


Last up, Greg Ashton from Reason Digital talked to us about ‚ÄėKeep On, Keep Up‚Äô ‚Äď an app developed in partnership with University of Manchester and New Charter Housing Trust.¬† The software aims to share exercises and advice on falls prevention through engaging games and quizzes.¬† The work is impressive, not just because of the appealing design and gameplay (we all took a shine to Wilf, your digital personal trainer, and his family)¬†¬† but also because of the substantial efforts that are going into developing an evidence base for the intervention.¬† It‚Äôs rare to see a health app with such a substantial body of research and evaluation behind it.¬†

We wrapped up with a last chance for a chat and a drink before heading back out into the sunshine. Many thanks to everyone who joined us, and especially our Manchester OHT speakers ‚Äď we‚Äôre aiming to be back with another event in September.

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