Simon Leigh is a principal consultant & senior health economist at Lifecode Solutions.
In 2015 he was sharing a workspace with psychologist Steve Flatt who asked him to do a bit of digging into the evidence supporting mental health apps.
After looking at the NHS app store Leigh realised there was a shocking lack of data to back these apps up.
The pair wrote a report called ‘App-based psychological interventions: friend or foe?’ which suggested that although apps had huge potential there were many problems to overcome.
These included a lack of evidence to support them and fears that users could become over-reliant on the tech.
Since then a new NHS apps library which includes many of the evidence-based apps cited in the report has been launched, suggesting things seem to have moved on a little.
However apps are coming through so quickly it’s hard to monitor all of them, says Leigh.
“What gets my goat is the NHS only recommends one or two apps,” he says.
“If you’re already using an app you have no idea if it’s any better than the apps they’re recommending.
” If you were switching electricity and gas you’d only switch when you knew that one’s better than the other.”
Because of this frustration Leigh got involved with ORCHA HEALTHCARE, which promotes and reviews health apps.
This way users can pick apps based on the most important things for them – from user experience to supporting evidence or data privacy.
“There are lots of opportunities around apps but the important thing is not to oversell them,” says Leigh.
During his research Leigh has found the quality of apps often have surprisingly little to do with downloads or user ratings.
“People often go on the number of downloads but you can’t trust that,” he says.
“I’d look to someone like ORCHA who doesn’t have a vested interest to find a good app, but the important thing is not to use one without doing some research first.”