New health app put to the test in Lancashire

Ross Cooper has developed the new NHS Orb
Ross Cooper has developed the new NHS Orb

The app will see you now . . .

As the NHS continues to struggle with demand, and patients report long waits in securing an appointment with their GP, Lancashire has been chosen to pilot a new medical app.

The Orb is a new digital platform designed to ease access to health advice and care.

It’s being developed for NHS England, and Lancashire and South Cumbria is one of the areas chosen to test out the idea.

To be used in conjunction with GPs, the app aims to bring together medical information in one easy-to-use app, which will help patients to manage their own medical conditions.

As it develops, it could also be used to book GP appointments, arrange blood tests and find their nearest pharmacy or clinic.

Developer Ross Cooper said: “We want to create an NHS platform for patients. In England there are hundreds and thousands of applications and websites that deal with every aspect of health.

“The issue we’ve found is that either people don’t know about them or didn’t find them easy to organise and access.”

READ MORE: Looking to a digital future for health service in Lancashire

He said a recent survey showed 40 per cent of visits to hospital A&E departments resulted in zero treatment and believes there must be a better way to enable people to get appropriate health care.

Ross predicts: “This will bring together all NHS services in an exciting interactive format. We’re allowing services to be accessed.”

A promotional film for the Orb gives an indication of its potential range – from enabling patients to book GP appointments online, book blood tests, find pharmacies and get information about different health conditions.

Encryption means that any personal data will be safe with health records available for access online once arrangements have been made with a local health service.

If local services also provide online consultations these too could be accessed through the Orb.

Ross stresses the Orb can be adapted to the end user - for example if someone is diagnosed with diabetes they may want to use a diabetes app which includes help measuring and controlling sugar intake.

It would also include links to council care services.

Ross said: “We want to create a digital platform for an individual to have access to the most appropriate or best care or treatment for their specific condition.

“The NHS Orb is a platform that can be adapted by an individual to meet their specific needs and we think that’s unique.”

The Orb will be built for any device with a digital display - including computers, smartphones and smartwatches.

The platform has been in development for three years and is now ready to be tested.

Some of the first people to give their feedback were county schoolchildren attending an event at the University of Central Lancashire promoting digital healthcare solutions.

The developers have carried out several engagement sessions across the county, with more to follow in the next three weeks.

They have also worked with staff and students at Swansea University and will be launching a Student Orb for the university in the autumn.

He added: “We’re a private company building a platform for the public sector.

READ MORE: Quizzing Alexa on health at special digital health day at UCLan

“It will be an evolutionary journey. People will be using digital services more and more and we provide a central place to align and access them.”

Dr Amanda Thornton, the digital health clinical lead for Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria, is leading the drive to consider how the NHS can better harness technological advances to deliver services better.

She explained: “We’re struggling for workforce. We haven’t got enough doctors and nurses to do jobs, so technology can really help us to use those people we have in work even more effectively.”

She is proud that Lancashire and South Cumbria have taken a “massive leap forward” in implementing digital technologies to provide access to records online, meaning that medics in different parts of the region will be kept up to date on patients’ treatment thanks to the shared care records, and will be testing out the Orb.

Dr Thornton proudly reports that when the Government’s new health minister was recently appointed, Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria was asked if information about its exemplary progress could go in an induction pack for the minister.

She said: “We are really proud of the digital strategy.”

She stressed the priority is to enable access to the right information to make the best decisions to enable people to keep well and stay well.

Empowering individuals will, for example, mean giving them the ability to access and add to their own electronic healthcare record, manage appointments online, access good quality information to support decision making about health and access support remotely when needed.

It is predicted digital tools will also help individuals make changes in lifestyle and monitor the impact of those changes.

Meanwhile, Lancashire County Council is using a type of assistive technology called Telecare to help support adults with care and support needs at home and to reassure their carers.

A spokesman said: “The Telecare service uses a range of equipment, such as personal alarms, falls detectors, medication dispensers and smoke detectors, which is linked to and alerts a 24/7 monitoring centre that will arrange the right response if someone needs further help.”

“We are currently looking at what other equipment we could provide in the future, including mobile technology to support people when they are out and about.”