The TicSalut Foundation has developed a portal that brings together mobile apps in the field of health and social welfare that have passed the accreditation process aligned with European Community strategy.
According to a survey by the Gartner (Internet of Things Report, October 2015), by 2018 every person will be using, on average, at least three devices simultaneously, including ‘wearables’, mobile phones, tablets, etc. This fact goes hand-in-hand with an increase in the digital density of every sector, and the health sector is no exception.
In recent years we have seen the birth of numerous initiatives, more or less extensive, related to telemedicine, telecare and the integration and digitalization of information and mobility. It is this last field, mobility, along with ‘Big Data’ and the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) that is capturing the attention of more organizations, which are structuring their business and service models based on one, or the intersection of more than one, of these areas. A clear example of this fact has been the exponential growth in the number of mobile apps related to the healthcare sector, in all its possible guises, which any member of the general public, whether a patient or a healthcare professional, can find in any official iOS or Android marketplace, to give just one example.
Not too long ago – in fact, just a few months – whenever presentations or studies mentioned approximate figures for the number of health-related apps available in these official marketplaces, the figure was around 100,000 apps. Right now, the number of apps available has surpassed 165,000 and continues to grow exponentially. This huge range of health-related apps has created a sense of uncertainty among users. According to an article published on the Healthcare IT News website, in view of the difficulty involved in learning about all these apps and taking as a practical example a user who wants to use an app to control their weight, without any guides or recommendations they would probably try out several of the most popular apps until finding the one they like best.
There are currently more than 165,000 apps available and this number is growing exponentially
In addition to this overwhelming offering in terms of the huge number of apps on the market, users are also facing other uncertainties such as not having any assurance of the quality and clinical reliability of the use of these apps. In order to shed some light on this issue, there are numerous European initiatives, which have been more or less successful, from both the public administration and the private sector, that have generated methodologies or questionnaires to highlight the apps that could really make a difference for their users.
The European Commission itself is addressing this issue with the creation of two working groups of international experts. One of them is working on drawing up a privacy code for mHealth app developers (‘Privacy Code of Conduct for mHealth apps’) and the other on a guide for assessing mobile apps (‘mHealth assessment guidelines’).
THE APPSALUT PORTAL, THE DIGITAL HEALTH PLATFORM AND CERTIFICATION MODEL
It is in this scenario and within the framework of Catalonia’s Master Plan for Mobility, mHealth.cat, that the TicSalut Foundation has developed and rolled out the AppSalut portal. The portal features a series of mobile apps related to the world of health and social welfare that have passed the Foundation’s certification process which is aligned with the European Community’s strategy and in the public domain. In this respect, the AppSalut Portal offers a trustworthy space where different users, whether patients, healthcare professionals, carers, etc. can find an organized, clear and intuitive selection of secure apps that have been certified both functionally and technologically.
Within the next few months, the fact that an app has been included in the AppSalut Portal will imply that the use of this app has been endorsed by a healthcare and/or social welfare professional in Catalonia to be featured on the Portal. At the same time, users who have been recommended the use of an app, or more than one, can share all the data generated directly by this app with their healthcare professional on the Digital Health Platform.
The Digital Health Platform (PSD) is the second part of this model. The Platform is a repository of structured clinical and non-clinical data generated by the users of any of the apps that have been recommended by healthcare professionals and certified for use by the general public. In order to make the PSD as multipurpose as possible, it accepts coded data in the seven most widely-used controlled vocabularies in the world. If an app records a piece of data that is not coded in one of these seven standard vocabularies, the Office of Standards and Interoperability at the TicSalut Foundation will start the process to codify it and extend it globally.
Another key factor is the viewer. The PSD offers a viewer for both users and professionals whereby on a single screen and in an aggregated, ordered and standardized way they can view all the data generated by the recommended apps. In the case of professionals, this viewer is integrated into the workstation, regardless of the information system used in their centres, so if they identify an important fact they can select it and add it automatically to the clinical history of the patient who generated it, and at the same time to the Shared Medical Record.
CERTIFICATION MODEL. FOUR SECTIONS: DESIGN AND USABILITY, CONTENTS AND FUNCTIONALITIES, SECURITY AND TECHNOLOGICAL RELIABILITY
The third part of this model is the mobile app certification model. In the first version of the model, a total of around 120 criteria were defined. These criteria are in the public domain and can be referred to on the Portal itself. They are grouped into four main sections: criteria related to the design and usability of the app, which takes into consideration parameters such as accessibility, user experience and visual aesthetics, amongst others. The second section relates to content and functionalities, assessing parameters such as the quality of the content and the usefulness of the features. The criteria of the third section, confidentiality and data security, assesses parameters related to management and data processing policies. Finally, the section on technological requirements evaluates the reliability and technological adaptability of the app.
It is worth mentioning that the people responsible for the certification will be independent professionals who are experts in each of these four areas. To do so, the TicSalut Foundation has established collaboration agreements with different organizations, associations and professional societies which will collaborate by providing their knowledge in the process of checking and certifying the apps.
The mHealth.cat Office is responsible for checking and certifying these apps and supporting their developers
This project, which is completely innovative at both a European and global level, is generating new relationship models between professionals and users, strengthening the remote healthcare model and, to a certain extent, creating a ‘blue ocean’ of services based on mobile technologies in the field of healthcare and social welfare.
To tackle these new challenges, the TicSalut Foundation has set up the mHealth.cat Office. This office is responsible for managing the entire functional development of the project, focusing above all on regular and systematic checks of the whole certification process of the apps, providing support for developers in this process and guaranteeing the correct alignment with European standards and guidelines. The mHealth.cat Office is also responsible for establishing guidelines and recommendations aimed at creating apps and services based on new mobile technologies which might be applicable in the fields of either healthcare or social welfare.
The AppSalut Portal, along with the app certification model and the Digital Health Platform, is the first project to interlink all the stakeholders involved, defining the guidelines for offering assurance and reliability to users and healthcare professionals alike in the public health and social welfare systems of Catalonia. The TicSalut Foundation is working on the promotion, implementation and use of new technologies in healthcare and social welfare, not only in Catalonia but at a state, European and global level, in line with Warren Bennis’s statement that leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.
Project Manager, TicSalut Foundation
Director of Innovation, TicSalut Foundation
Francesc Garcia Cuyàs
General Manager, TicSalut Foundation