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


A Digital Supplement for Eating Disorder Service

A Digital Supplement for Eating Disorder Service

An estimated 89,600 people across Lancashire have an eating disorder and this figure is growing by 7% each year.  With no single cause, these complex mental health conditions include bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and anorexia nervosa, and can affect men and women of all ages.

Eating disorders can severely affect the quality of life of the sufferer and those that care for them and can shorten a person’s life.  But with the right care, people can recover.

To provide the right support, Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust provides an eating disorder service, run from clinics across the region.  The team includes specialist nurses, psychologists, dietitians, and therapists, offering a wide range of care.

The team hadn’t consistently used digital solutions as part of therapy, but saw that patients were increasingly on digital media.  When the Trust provided its staff with access to the ORCHA platform, the eating disorder team immediately saw the potential and now prescribes health apps to supplement and enhance its therapy.

Dr Hannah Wilson, Clinical Psychologist, explains:

The ORCHA platform includes in-depth evaluations of health apps, enabling the team to find safe and effective apps to help a patient, and the tools to prescribe them.  Before ORCHA I would have to spend at least a week using an app myself, to be clear on what I am asking of a client, and whilst I still now take a look, I don’t need to take as long and feel reassured it has been reviewed against the criteria that matter. I can’t try out the thousands of apps out there and so it’s good to know that work has been done for me.

Also when a client shows me an app they have found, I check its ORCHA review and so can advise if they should continue to use it or if there is a more effective app for their need.

One app the team have found particularly useful is Recovery Record. With meal logs, meal plans, coping skills, secure messages, data & charts, it provides valuable support to the patient, whilst building useful behaviour information to review during appointments.

The team also prescribe Mindfulness apps such as Happier.  Although they are not specific to an eating disorder, the app can be used to lift a patient’s mood, meditate, or capture happy moments; which can all help patients to stay positive.

On the contribution apps make to the practice, Dr Wilson explains:

For me, eating disorders are complex. An app by itself is unlikely to be enough to enable a patient to recover, but I have found that they support, supplement and back up sessions. The apps enable patients to receive some support between appointments.

For example, they help people to more accurately monitor what we have asked them to, be it their mood or what they’ve eaten.  People carry their phone everywhere and so are much more likely to simply and discretely make a note, rather than pull a piece of paper that could be spotted by others or lost.  Apps can also provide a source of motivation to help patients keep to their treatment plans.  Some also provide real practical assistance with meal planning.

Our clients of all ages use apps every day.  If we can become part of that world, we can become more effective and sustainable.  Apps also provide a great tool for patients to use long after they have been discharged from our service, to help maintain their progress and stay well.


Healthy Apps for Healthy Schools in Essex

Healthy Apps for Healthy Schools in Essex

Anglia Ruskin Health Partnership, Active Essex, Essex County Council, and ORCHA came together recognising the need to develop a different model of health care delivery for a new digitally active generation; one that embeds a pro-active approach to ‘looking after your own health from an early age’.

The Digitally Healthy Schools Programme is a direct response to increasing levels of concern about health outcomes for young people; particularly around mental health, sexual health and identity, and underlying determinants of health such as diet, weight and exercise.

Having initially scoped the programme for 5 schools, intense interest meant that roll out was extended to include 5 secondary schools and 6 primary schools in Essex. The project is looking at how digital solutions may offer a different and more accessible route into tackling these areas of concern amongst this traditionally difficult to engage demographic. Specifically, it is exploring the potential opportunity to use health apps in schools to improve the health and wellbeing of young people.

A key, and invaluable, outcome of this project will be the wider understanding of what motivates or switches off young people to use apps as part of how they look after themselves, and how they use the apps that they download. A planned by-product, however, will be any ‘halo’ effect that extends through families and the wider communities of those students involved; demonstrating if there is a greater take up of health apps wider than the project group.

In taking this opportunity to stimulate wider population take-up of digital health aides through targeting young people, this project will also develop transferable learning for the local health and care system about how to use digital technology – effectively – as an embedded part of the care process.

Implementation will be finished and evaluated by the end of the 2016/17 academic year. At that stage, a report will be produced that will extrapolate and articulate key learning and lessons to inform the wider health and education systems as they consider whether there is a case to be made for mainstreaming this approach at scale.

Driving mHealth uptake in Lancashire

Driving mHealth uptake in Lancashire

ORCHA have partnered up with Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria, through the Lancashire Digital Health Programme, to face the challenge of making mHealth accessible across the disparate communities of Lancashire and South Cumbria. With the Programme involving the Councils, NHS Trusts, Clinical Commissioning Groups, and numerous other organisations across the region, this work with ORCHA has become a key delivery project.

Dr Amanda Thornton, Clinical Director at Lancashire Care Foundation Trust, explains where she sees the value of ORCHA to the population of Lancashire and South Cumbria:

After months of preparation, testing (including with patients and clinicians) and tweaking, the region’s own portal is live and creating a buzz. Health and care professionals are now familiarising themselves with the range of apps that are available for each condition or category, using the ORCHA review to inform their decisions, and making and managing recommendations through their very own ORCHA Pro pages. Members of the public are enjoying the confidence that comes with knowing which apps will have the best impact for them, and which will look after their personal data.

This progress is seeing the momentum building across the region that will ultimately lead to a cultural shift towards ownership of ‘your’ own health, and a focus on prevention/management rather than cure. It’s at that stage that real health improvements and a reduction in pressure on the local health and care systems will be tangible.

If you’re a health or care professional in the region, get in touch with to find out more about how to get your very own ORCHA Pro account. If you’re a member of the public in the region, visit the portal and start making the most of the benefits it offers, or speak to your health and care professionals to find out if they’re signed up yet.

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