How can an app make a difference?

29 May 2014
How Health Mapper fits in

As entrepreneurs we like to dream big. It may sound grandiose but we'd like to improve the world and make a difference.

Certainly, there are easier things to do in life than run a healthcare start-up, where the time, energy and money invested into making a great product matters little if the path to a large swathe of end-users (preferably within the framework of the NHS) who can test, feedback on and validate their tool is tricky to navigate.

Still, we continue to dream big, even with prior knowledge of the challenges ahead, and in the context of our often brilliant but troubled National Health Service, as we see the potential for how digital can be a powerful force for good within our healthcare system.

Setting the scene

The seemingly perpetual crisis within the NHS has occupied many column inches, web-logs and radio phone-ins. 

There's a multi-billion pound funding gap that needs to be filled. Negative stories about the NHS often outweigh the positive ones. Emotions run riot, individuals feel they lack control whilst politicians continue to politik and do their best to say and do the right things whilst in the seats of power, or maker grand promises as the opposition looking to dislodge the incumbents. Who knows what change a 2015 general election will bring to their rhetoric, direction and plans for the NHS despite assurances that all parties are aligned in this matter.

Millions are invested into various innovation projects, with SMEs and established big business hoping to find the digital health holy grail, whilst the fact remains that we don't have and won't for quite some time, a system where patient data is integrated across the broader NHS. Will the project succeed? We think so but opposition has been vocal and the project has suffered delays.

So, what about Health Mapper then?

You've read all of the above, and are rightly wondering 'where does Health Mapper stand amongst this complicated, fragmented chaos'? What impact can it have on helping people live well? How can app make a difference?

Both Health Mapper co-founder Stu and myself (Dan), have experienced the good and the bad of healthcare in the UK, both individually, and through members of our families who have long term health conditions.

Combine those experiences with a love of design and a long-standing appreciation of the power of digital, and it's not a radical leap for us to see the potential for how a mobile phone can help support individuals with their health management and communication with their doctor.

We don't expect Health Mapper to save the NHS, and it definitely won't fill the funding gap (though it could help a little), but creating it has opened our eyes to small changes that both the individual and the NHS can make to help embrace innovation and the further adoption of digital tools like Health Mapper.

If you're an individual...

1. Challenge, question and learn

As our health system continues to shift from its foundations into the future, more of us look to take control by creating our own micro health systems. Patients are increasingly becoming the experts on their long-term conditions and the role of the clinician is changing, from the diagnoser to the care facilitator to the educator. We want this to continue, and to empower people to actively challenge, collaborate and learn from their clinicians. 

2. Be open with your data

It's time to be open-minded with our data. When used in the right way it should be able to help the NHS better understand and manage all aspects of our healthcare system. The initiative could have a very positive impact on research, analysis and insight into all things health. It needs to be managed correctly, secure and transparent, but we believe it deserves your support.

3. Be holistic and realistic

Changing habits is very difficult, especially when our brains are often wired to make us act in certain ways. So, if you want to start to improve your health, an approach is to change just one thing. For example, if you want to get fitter, tryto  start running two to three times a week, at the same time early in the morning. Then treat yourself to the reward of a tasty breakfast. Get that working, and wired into your brain, and other benefits may start to emerge.

If you're part of the NHS...

1. View start-ups as potentially very useful, enthusiastic collaborators

 To increase the impact of tools like Health Mapper, it's beneficial to have access to larger patient groups, and to work with GPs and Clinicians to test and validate the app. For innovation to succeed in healthcare, it needs helpful access to patients and clinicians. We need partnerships and relationships, not barriers. Lets find as many ways as possible to work together.

2. Believe in design

 It's time to raise the bar of design within healthcare to the standard expected from the modern consumer. Consumers are used to smooth, enjoyable user experiences when using tools like Twitter, Facebook or Strava, so why should they not expect the same from digital tools for health management, both for end-users and clinicians.

3. It's not all about digital

Though we love digital, and we love apps, we're not in love with the idea that digital is the cure-all solution. Sometimes the support from sitting in a room with people who have similar conditions, having open and honest conversation can have more impact on a person's mood and behaviour, than a million apps will ever have. It's all about context, options and balance.

This article was written by Dan Bladon, co-founder of Health Mapper and Prosper.

The app for monitoring your health conditions.

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