Small steps – smoothing the way for #mHealth innovation in the NHS

If we’re going to develop digital tools that make a proper difference to people’s lives, then we need fantastic collaboration between app developers, designers, academics, clinicians and people accessing services. This is the magic that will enable great ideas and solutions to emerge.

Sound simple? Well we’ve already come unstuck a few times and we’re only at the beginning of our #mHealthHabitat journey – creating an environment in Leeds for mHealth to flourish.

It’s increasingly apparent to me that NHS institutions can be daunting bodies to collaborate with for all sorts of different reasons. But we desperately need the creativity and technical know-how of digital specialists, alongside the domain expertise of people who know intimately what it is like to live with a particular diagnosis, and people with clinical knowledge, teaming up together.

My aspiration is to make this as easy as possible, and one way to get there is to learn through doing. Once we’ve done it then it will be a little easier the next time. And so on.

A big challenge is in understanding all the checks and balances required by the NHS to protect the safety and privacy of people accessing services. It’s a minefield of information governance, regulation and ethics – all undeniably important and all tricky to balance with agile innovation – learning fast and failing quickly. It is possible to get so lost in regulation that innovation becomes a distant dream.

Last week I hooked up with MindTech, alongside a group of people bringing diverse expertise, to begin unpicking all the fundamental standards that should be considered when recommending, licencing or developing a digital tool within a mental health care context. We looked at existing sites aimed at evaluating apps including NHS Apps Library, My Health Apps and Mind Apps alongside the World Health Organisation mHealth publication.

After much head scratching we came up with a ton more questions, but also an initial list of evaluation criteria that we are going to test out in a piece of user-centred design work for a digital tool we are building with our Yorkshire Centre for Eating Disorders. We certainly didn’t come up with all the answers but I learnt that getting people with lots of different points of view in a conversation is a pretty good place to start.