General Practice safely unlocks the power of health apps

General Practice safely unlocks the power of health apps

Wingate Medical Centre is a busy general practice looking after more than 12,000 people across Kirby and East Fazakerley.  Faced with a rise in conditions such as diabetes, COPD, heart conditions and mental health, and an ageing population with more complex cases, demand for its services continues to grow.

With limited resource, the practice looks for marginal gains, identifying small incremental improvements in its practice, which together provide significant advances.

The practice identified health apps as a branch of treatment that can bring improvements. The right apps, when integrated into practice correctly, can make a big difference.

Some of the centre’s GPs already recommended apps to their patients, but this required the GP to research and test apps.  It also relied on the patient remembering the recommended app, bringing risk that the patient may accidentally download the wrong app.

To unlock the benefit apps offer and safely integrate them into its practice, Wingate Medical Centre adopted the ORCHA platform, part of NHS England’s National Innovation Accelerator Programme.  Dr Chris Mimnagh explains:

“When we saw the ORCHA platform it was a no brainer for us.  It provides us with exactly what we need – a website that helps us to find the best apps to meet a patient’s needs, and a tool to deliver the app directly to the patient.

“Previously relying on our own GPs to review apps relied on an anecdotal approach.  With ORCHA, we know that each app has been evaluated against more than 130 criteria, including those set out by regulatory bodies.

“With thousands of health apps available, we are not best placed to know which ones to test. We could waste time looking at a scam app developed by a 14 year old from their bedroom.  But as ORCHA continuously scans the market and tests more apps than anyone else, it cuts through this noise.

“Our old method of showing a patient an app also brought risk.  It was the equivalent of presenting a patient with a packet of pills, asking them to remember it and then find it in the pharmacy. With ORCHA, each an app recommendation is delivered directly to a patient’s phone, so they can download it with a click of a button.”

Through the ORCHA platform, the team has discovered apps that make a huge difference.  For example Headspace enables patients with mental health issues to access simple yet effective CBT whilst they wait to see a therapist.   Migraine Buddy allows patients to keep detailed reports about their migraine, helping the team to have more meaningful discussions, better pinpointing potential triggers and assessing the effectiveness of prescribed medication.

Concluding about ORCHA, Dr Mimnagh says:

“We aim to treat patients in the right place at the right time.  ORCHA is helping us to deliver this. In order to see our urgent patients within a four hour window, we help a third of our patients over the phone. We recommend an app to many of these, which bolsters the care advice or prescription given.  We also recommend apps to the third of patients who see us with routine matters. The intelligence or value add that an app brings, particularly helps people with long term problems.

“I think any GP should review the ORCHA platform for their practice.  As phones get smarter, the apps bring more and more benefit to a GP. ORCHA can help you navigate the market and safely embrace this potential.”


Pupils Put their Mobiles to Good Use

Pupils Put their Mobiles to Good Use

Children starting Secondary School this September were born the year the first iPhone was released.  Eleven years on and 83% own a smartphone, using them for 2.58 hours every day on average and it’s the device they would miss the most. Yet whilst prolific on snapchat, young people’s understanding and knowledge of potentially helpful features such as health and well-being apps is very low, with usage at 27%.

With one in three children entering Secondary School obese and mental health problems amongst school age children rising, NHS and Council services across Lancashire and Cumbria are working together to harness the prevalence of mobiles for good and to creatively engage young people in managing their own health.

Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria has rolled out an education programme, Digital Healthy Schools, for more than one thousand pupils in twenty secondary schools across the region. Through assemblies and hands-on workshops, pupils are encouraged to learn more about health conditions whilst exploring the topic of app development and app reviews in PHSE and science lessons.

Vitally, with no regulation in Apple or Google app stores, pupils were given advice on what to look for in an app around safety, data security and clinical effectiveness.  They also had access to an app comparison site, which features apps evaluated against 150 criteria and suitable for children.

The programme was devised and run by ORCHA, which is a leading health app evaluation and advisor organisation, home to the world’s biggest health app comparison site, and part of NHS England’s National Innovation Accelerator Programme.

Since the start of the programme in February 2018, pupils have discovered and downloaded more than 88 different apps onto their phones and 50% of pupils who participated now use a health app.  Pupils have reported changing a range of behaviours, from swapping car journeys to walking, drinking more water and going to bed earlier.

Between February and May the top five most downloaded apps were:

  1. Lincus companion – Allows you to track a number of complex health conditions as well as tracking general day to day wellbeing.
  2. Fitbit – the well-known activity tracker.
  3. Sleepio – designed to teach you how to overcome even long term poor sleep without pills or potions.
  4. Best-You – An app that allows a user to self-manage, this may be of illness such as Asthma or it may be managing lifestyle habits.
  5. My Health UK – connecting pupils with primary care services, allowing users to book appointments or access their health records.

One of the schools running the programme is Witton Park Academy in Blackburn.  With more than 1,000 pupils aged 11 to 16, the academy’s vision is to make every pupil a success in all aspects of their life, which includes their health.  Commenting on the programme, Mr Archer commented: “Using apps is second nature to young people, they embraced the programme immediately.  It created conversation and enabled technology’s positive role to shine through.  Pupils have actively used apps to adopt changes to their lifestyles, particularly around diet and exercise – although one pupil even found an app to better treat his mum’s eczema! It’s great to see them taking responsibility for their own health.”

Liz Ashall-Payne, CEO ORCHA and current NIA Fellow said: “On average it takes ten years between a child with a long term condition experiencing a symptom and actually asking for help.  Apps are a safe way to learn more about your own health and can form part of a wider solution to cut this time. By increasing children’s knowledge in this area, they will be able to safely engage with these valuable tools.”

Dr Amanda Thornton, Digital Health Clinical Lead for Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria and commissioner of the programme confirmed her delight at its success. She said: “it’s important to keep children safe online, but also important to encourage them to keep well – and use digital tools to help them do so. ORCHA has prompted some great conversations in schools and helped enforce the message that we want to empower every person to feel confident and capable of making informed decisions about their health behaviours, and to understand the health consequences of those decisions. It’s all of our responsibility to take an active role in looking after our own health, and the job of health and care services to work together to make this as easy as possible. “

To find out about the work of Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria, visit:

Notes for editors:

Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria has recently launched the ‘Our Digital Future’ Strategy. This outlines a number of shared principles for developing digital solutions between partner organisations – including hospital trusts, NHS organisations and Local Authorities. These principles include:

  • We will create digital solutions with the people who will be using them
  • We will judge our progress against this digital strategy from the public’s perspective
  • We will create an environment that empowers our frontline
  • We will use data to prevent, predict and respond to ill-health
  • We will work together to reduce complexity in order to improve quality and safety
  • We will engage with academia, industry and others to accelerate innovation

The strategy covers five inter-connected themes to improve our health and care which are:

  • Empowering the person
  • Supporting the frontline
  • Integrating services
  • Managing the system more effectively
  • Creating the future


To download a copy of the strategy and for all the latest digital health news for Lancashire and South Cumbria, visit


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