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Promoting Better Apps for Better Outcomes

By Liz Ashall-Payne, ORCHA (Healthcare) Added 10th Aug, 2016 Updated 23rd Jul, 2019

Health and care apps present new and exciting opportunities for both users and the Healthcare sector at large.  As of 2015, it was estimated that 71% of Britons owned a smartphone [2], 75% use smartphones or tablets to search for health information online [3], and over 90% would use mobile-health services to engage with healthcare professionals, in the event that these services were available [2].


Apps exist and are in development for a wide array of users, ranging from solutions that remind and assist people with essential activities, to approaches that monitor key physiological parameters to improve management of multi-morbid long term conditions and to improve quality of life through enabling social interaction. If you can think of an ailment, concern or any aspect of your health and wellbeing which you wish to improve upon, you can be certain that there is already an app for it, there may be ten, one hundred or even upwards of a thousand; what is uncertain however, is whether such apps will work.

What has the solution made possible which wasn’t possible before?

For the first time, ORCHA has developed an online database of health and care apps, which have been independently and impartially reviewed using a clinically and academically assessed framework.  Information about apps is presented in an intuitive, comparable, and friendly way through a free to use website.  Users can customize searches and quickly and easily find the health apps they need based on their assessed value and potential risk.  Users, now more than ever, can rapidly access mobile health solutions, improving their health, wellbeing and quality of life.  ORCHA also provide professional versions of the software, so that the ORCHA platform can be integrated into local strategic health activities, and other health channels.  The ORCHA platform has been designed to consist of multiple ‘white labelled’ variants, which are all driven by a common repository of review information and associated data. Through this approach it is possible to create solutions targeted for particular geographies, conditions or cohorts, enabling the key ORCHA components to be seamlessly integrated into existing public facing and professional facing solutions. This approach also enables the much more rapid adoption of the underlying review methodology and the consequent development of ORCHA as the predominant environment to promote and source health apps.

Furthermore, ORCHA PRO is available to health and care professionals (including Pharmacists, GPs, and other clinicians) to enable them to review and recommend apps directly to their patients, as well as review performance data related to app use, app reviews, and tracking of successful outcomes.  With our help, health and care professionals can use ORCHA PRO to rethink and reimagine how key services can be delivered, leading to improved efficiencies and cost reductions.  For example, through the selection and use of high quality apps, appointments with GPs can be minimized, or patient discharge from A&E can be enhanced, improving patient outcomes, and reducing the burden on critical services.

Why is it relevant? To what extent have high priority problems or needs been met?

In the wake of unprecedented NHS efficiency savings, increasing waiting lists, and a looming shortage of trained medical professionals, those concerned with proactively managing their health and wellbeing are increasingly turning to the use of unregulated ‘apps.’ This infant industry is quickly gathering momentum, and with an estimated 165,000 health apps available for download as of 2015 [1], the convenience and widespread availability of mobile health solutions presents an accessible, affordable and inviting opportunity to empower those looking to actively manage their health.  The ORCHA solution is highly relevant to this agenda, as it means that the benefits of health and care apps are more likely to be realised, through increased accessibility, and identification of high quality and appropriate apps.  Apps enable the possibility of making positive changes from the comfort of your own home, and not confined by the constraints of appointment times and waiting lists, can enable the treatment of thousands of individuals at the same time [4], with the treatment of one individual having absolutely no impact on the time and resources available to treat others. The widely accessible nature of health and care apps also presents a flexible and pragmatic opportunity to improve citizen and patient access and extend the effective reach of health and care, to those who, for one reason or another, are not currently able to engage with existing services.  The ORCHA solution means that potential users can find what they are looking for quickly and easily, and are more likely to have a positive experience.

To what extent is ORCHA helping to make a breakthrough?

The standards we use to assess and review apps also provide app developers with detailed feedback and insights for free, giving them unparalleled information about how to develop higher quality and safer apps than ever before.  We believe that this will help the industry to respond and develop to the needs of the health and care sector even faster, something which is vitally needed.  In this sense the ORCHA solution has changed the rules and is helping the wider market for health and care apps to make a break through, likely leading to the improvement in use of TECS in the medium and long term.  In addition, because of the different ORCHA platforms we have developed, we have been able to transform the ways health and care apps will be used by end users, clinicians and other professionals in the NHS, including supporting service transformation, for example.  The ORCHA platform can also be used by housing associations, fire and rescue services, local authorities, care homes etc. to support their users and stakeholders.

How is the ORCHA making people and organisations think differently?

The ORCHA solution is really making people think differently about health and care apps, and to think that health and care apps are accessible, high quality, and can be taken seriously.  It’s also making health and care organisations think differently too, by integrating health and care apps into their local strategies for health in a serious way.  Health and care apps, an ORCHA itself, are not considered in isolation, or as standalone options; they’re being considered as ways of putting technology at the heart of health and care pathways.  In a nutshell, ORCHA is increasing the trust, understanding and desire for apps and TECS among commissioners, professionals and service users.

What does ORCHA mean for the future in terms of longevity and legacy?

The ORCHA solution will continue to be relevant as the app market develops and becomes more and more integrated within TECS, e.g. through the rise of the Internet of Things, the use of sensors and integrated products such as ENSAFE etc.  We continue to invest in development of the ORCHA solution, and our reviewers are developing a deep knowledge of health and care apps, which we are sharing with our growing developer community.  We follow all of the latest standards to undertake our reviews, and we will continue to refine our process as those standards develop.  We also review new apps as they become available.  So the ORCHA solution has longevity, is building impact, and has a legacy of making other solutions more viable.

What outcomes is ORCHA helping to achieve?

There is growing evidence that such apps can improve outcomes for our populations however, there is currently little independent review to ensure their effectiveness, safety or value to users and professionals. This limits user and professional confidence, the growth of app businesses, and also constrains the opportunity for the UK population to take advantage of apps to address major health and social demographic issues while potentially reducing load on public resources. The sheer scale of emerging apps in this key area also actively inhibits the use of these services, as patients, carers and their health and care professionals struggle to find the right solutions. Finding a clear and trusted pathway through these congested waters is a critical enabler of any wider digital health strategy.  For the past 18 months ORCHA have been developing, designing and delivering the solution. ORCHA offers a clear and robust approach to the review, validation and dissemination of these services and through this core capability creates an attractive powerful and multifaceted digital health hub that citizens, patients, carers, health and care professionals and developers themselves are all able to utilise to drive this critical agenda.

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[1] IMS institute for health informatics. Medicines Use and Spending in the U.S. – A Review of 2015 and Outlook to 2020. 2015. Available at: Accessed 2nd April 2016.

[2] Nuffield trust. Delivering the benefits of digital health care. 2016. 194

[3] Department of Health and UK Trade and Investment. The UK: your partner for digital health 195 solutions. 2015. Available at: partner-for-digital-health-solutions. Accessed 5th April 2016

Useful resources

Introduction to The Organisation for the Review of Health and Care Applications

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