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Nurses urged to complete survey for national 'app' evaluation framework

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A national framework for evaluating the quality of healthcare applications, often referred to as “apps”, for smartphones is to be developed to help clinicians and healthcare organisations select safe and effective ones for practice.

Nurses are being urged to take part in a survey about how they use apps – either for themselves or by recommending to patients – to help develop the framework.

“Some nurses are not engaging with apps due to uncertainties related to their evidence base, effectiveness [and] safety”

Mohammad Mobasheri

Emerging findings from the survey so far suggest that nurses who do not use apps are often unable to identify the evidence base behind them. They are also worried about their clinical liability if they were to recommend them to patients, and are concerned about data security.

Currently, apps that are classed as “medical devices” are regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

These are apps that collect data – such as diet, heartbeat, or blood glucose levels – from a patient or a diagnostic device and then analyse and interpret the data to make a diagnosis, prescribe a medicine, or recommend treatment.

But it is hoped the new framework for evaluating apps, which is being developed jointly by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and Public Health England, will result in a wider range of types – including those that are not considered medical devices, such as public health information apps – being assessed for use.

“If there is a high ownership rate [of mobile dvices] among healthcare professionals, then these are an incredibly powerful platform”

Mohammad Mobasheri

So far, initial findings from the survey – commissioned by NICE, PHE and Imperial College London to find out the ways nurses engage with apps – have shown nurses are unsure how to find high quality apps, which is stopping them from using them.

“For some healthcare professionals, a barrier to the use of apps is just having a general lack of awareness of them,” said Mohammad Mobasheri, a clinical researcher at Imperial who is working in the team carrying out the study.

“For others, they are not using them because the marketplace is overcrowded – there’s more than 100,000 of these apps out there. So the problem is with the quality of apps out there and concerns around that,” he told Nursing Times.

“Preliminary survey results suggest that some nurses are not engaging with apps due to uncertainties and concerns related to their evidence base, effectiveness, safety, liability, and the security and privacy of data,” said Mr Mobasheri.

He added that the survey was also expected to reveal how widespread the use of mobile devices and tablets was among healthcare professionals.

“If there is a high ownership rate among healthcare professionals, then these devices are an incredibly powerful platform through which we can enable staff to perform their clinical work and practice more efficiently, so long as there are high quality and useful apps out there that can help them to achieve this and that they are able to locate these apps,” he said.

Mr Mobasheri noted that, while only a small number of apps had been found to be high risk, studies had revealed serious safety concerns around those used for diagnosis and treatment.

He said current statutory regulation by the MHRA was “resource intensive” and therefore difficult to carry out, due to the large number of apps available.

Under the new evaluation framework, apps will be targeted for assessment if they address the “biggest healthcare challenges” or are able to provide efficiency savings for the healthcare system, added Mr Mobasheri.

  • Nurses have until 30 September to take part in the survey, the full results of which are expected to be published by the end of the year.
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