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Scott Ross DIG AstraZeneca

Health tech: Can an app save your life?

By Scott Ross, chief technology officer



Opinion article

May 2, 2015 | 4 min read

With doctors increasingly prescribing apps over drugs, DigitasLBi chief technology officer Scott Ross looks at the role of technology in delivering services for patients.

One of the reasons I love my job is that we set out to ensure our work has purpose, that it adds value to people’s lives, improves the human condition in some way. So can an app save someone’s life? I certainly hope so.

Work with purpose is a daily occurrence at DIG (Digital Innovation Group), our co-partnership with AstraZeneca, where we try to address some of healthcare’s biggest challenges. The teams in DIG design services that seek to improve people’s lives, putting patients and physicians at the heart of the process. In doing so, they also explore the role of technology in delivering services for patients, to support their treatment and deliver better outcomes.

Naturally, that means we discuss apps and wearables frequently, and ask some sobering questions, such as “can an app save someone’s life?”

To answer that, let’s look at diabetes, which has become a not-so- silent killer. According to Diabetes UK, over three million people in the UK have been diagnosed with the disease. Sadly that number is growing and over 1.5 million lives are prematurely ended due to the disease every year. Put into perspective, 35 people will have died by the time you have finished reading this article.

Most tragically of all, up to 80 per cent of all type 2 diabetes cases could be delayed or prevented right now, and there is no permanent cure available. Medications help manage the disease, but their usage is often indicated as an adjunct to diet and exercise – the key to health is being healthy. Living a healthy life isn’t as easy as it sounds however, and maybe that’s where tech can help.

My smartphone and wearables have become part of my identity. They don’t just connect me to the rest of the world; they connect the rest of the world to me. They give me an unparalleled ability to measure what I do and how I do it, and we know that it is easier to manage that which you can measure. The combination of measurement and connection has created a fundamental evolution in both our personal behaviour and the way in which healthcare professionals might be able to provide support.

Doctors have begun to recognise this. MobiHealthNews has reported more than 33 per cent of physicians surveyed have recommended apps to their patients, and 40 per cent said that using digital technology to communicate with patients will boost patient outcomes. However, the number of options is also growing exponentially. With over 40,000 apps and thousands of hardware devices to choose from it is becoming impossible for physicians to keep track of the industry and make informed recommendations for their patients. Combined with a shockingly absent lack of efficacy data, the m-health revolution runs the risk of being a victim of its own success.

At home, the Department of Health is to ease this burden for physicians via a series of National Information Board proposals scheduled for publication in mid-2015 around app accreditation and NHS kitemarking to allow GPs to prescribe apps while maintaining professional confidence. So can an app really save a life? All signs point to yes, but as an industry we have a lot of work ahead us to earn the trust of those we trust with our lives. A great reason to come to work every morning though.

Scott Ross DIG AstraZeneca

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