OHT in conversation with Julie Bretland, Our Mobile Health

Julie Bretland is hard to pin down for a conversation, but once you do, oh boy, you keep chatting and chatting. It's like there are so many things to share, so little time! Enjoy 🙂

Can you tell us about Our Mobile Health?

Our Mobile Health helps identify, assess, review, curate and distribute good high-quality health apps, so that health and care organisations can recommend, deploy and ultimately prescribe digital health services with confidence. To that end, we assess apps for the NHS apps library. We partner with EMIS to provide the EMIS app library powered by Our Mobile Health for GPs, we work with Parkinson’s UK to identify and make available apps relevant to people with Parkinson's and we assess apps for London’s Good Thinking Project.

How did the idea for Our Mobile Health App Library come about?

I was working in Africa on a project looking at how mobile electronic health records could help bridge the gap between the village health workers who saw patients in their homes, and the hospitals, often based four hours or more away in the cities. When I came back to the UK, I realised that the UK, despite our fabulous global reputation for both health and technology, was actually behind in our adoption of digital health solutions. Yet at the same time, we have all these changes we need to address in terms of greater life expectancy, poor lifestyles and budget constraints.

Apps and digital solutions were being developed, but we found either that the apps were being developed in isolation, either by or within the health service with little input from industry and the best practices. The user experience was often poor; data security standards were poor; and there were apps being promoted which stopped working when there was an update to the new operating system. Or apps were being developed by industry without the input of the health service, and thus there wasn’t the buy in from health professionals. As a result, health care professionals quite rightly didn’t have confidence in digital solutions and so the digital solutions weren’t adopted.

What we can bring to the party is good practice from the mobile industry, and an understanding of the regulations, standards and best practices that are already the norm. I ’ve been lucky enough to build a great team with years of experience in healthcare and a fabulous panel of clinicians, health professionals and academics who provide their independent expertise to help review products.

Our research showed that patients are quite happy to look at the app store for wellness apps but when they want to look for medical apps, they turn to their GP or healthcare professional; When it comes to apps, healthcare professionals don’t have anywhere to turn, as they would turn to a drug formulary for example for a medicine. So we fill that gap.

Who has access to Our Mobile Health App Library and how widely is it used? Is it available to the public?

We don’t have a single library that’s open to the public. Our aim isn’t to recreate the major apps stores but to provide a highly relevant portfolio of the best of the best apps. We do two things – we do a lot of work on identifying, assessing and reviewing apps according to an in-depth assessment process which we’ve co-developed over a number of years.

In some instances, we just provide assessment services for organisations that are looking to provide a service to their user base via their own library, as we do with the NHS app library for example. In other cases, we then promote those apps via an app library for our B2B clients such as with the EMIS App Library powered by Our Mobile Health, which makes it easy for GPs to recommend good apps to their patients through the EMIS App Library powered by Our Mobile Health, which has been trialed with 34 GP Practices and will be rolled out to all EMIS GP practices across England over the coming months.

How do you see the innovation impacting people’s lives in a practical way?

In a very practical way, I see it offering people confidence and trust in digital health services. Digital health services can empower us as individuals to help ourselves more, to get more involved in our own health, in terms of understanding it, monitoring it and looking after it.

We can use Digital health solutions to take the necessary steps to manage conditions better and reduce reliance on drugs. There are a number of apps which can help us to learn to sleep better, thus reducing our reliance on sleeping tablets for example or apps which help us to change our lifestyle to avoid Type 2 diabetes.

Has the innovation helped people and received publicity as a result of it? Can we have one or two example of case studies if possible?

We’re just an enabler. We help find and shine a light on the good digital services that are making a real difference to people and where the evidence base is increasing all the time.
Sleepio and Pzizz, for example, are really helping people to get a better night’s sleep and thus reduce the stress and mental health issues that come with being sleep deprived. We’re working with the Good Thinking team to assess apps which can be promoted to people who are struggling with sleep, sadness, anxiety or stress, but haven’t got as far as going to the doctor yet.

We’re also working with Parkinson’s UK to launch a library to help their community easily find apps and feedback on them, which will help further improve the services available to people and the families of those with Parkinson’s.

Can you provide examples of the tangible measures through which the health apps in the library have been tested for credibility?

There are ten category areas we investigate for each app, from patient safety, through to how apps deal with data security and where the data is hosted for example, through to how apps are dealing with patient consent for the use of any data collected, what the evidence base is for the app. We also look at the usability of the apps, and in each category, we tend to look at compliance and adherence to regulation, standards and best practice. We really lift the lid on an app. If an app isn’t up to scratch we don’t promote it but provide feedback to the developer so that they can fix it.

Can you tell us what were the criteria that led to you winning the Innovator of the Year Award?

They were looking for entries from women who have demonstrated innovation and new thinking in terms of product development, process or strategy & I think it was the fact that we’re applying existing knowledge about technology and bringing learning from other industries to help the health sector, rather than reinventing the wheel perhaps and we’re doing that in a way which makes adoption possible at scale.

Do you have any ideas for expansion or dissemination in the pipeline?

There’s so much still to do to improve confidence in digital services, and importantly to improve the roll out of services, so that more of us can benefit. So we’re really pleased about the different projects we’re involved with. The NHS has just issued a big call to action for developers to register for assessment to get onto the app library which we’re supporting and the EMIS apps library powered by Our Mobile Health will be rolling out to over 4000 GP practices in the coming months.

Both of those will enable scale and provide a really attractive market for the innovations coming through, which should help improve the evidence base for digital in terms of benefits for patients and thus create a virtuous circle.

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