The number of pensionable individuals in Scotland is expected to increase to 4-in-10 by 2039, and while rising life expectancy is a positive trend it is accompanied by higher levels of physical issues and health complications. Mental illnesses are also on the rise in Scotland, with rates of dementia predicted to double by 2035.
These complex health challenges urgently require cost-effective solutions, fuelling the growth of digital healthcare applications. Two local examples of the rise in healthcare apps are MindMate and Medsmart.
DIGIT spoke to Patrick Renner, co-creator of MindMate, an app which offers round-the-clock assistance for those suffering the onset of cognitive impairment.
Patrick said: “The app is designed to help people in their everyday lives. So for example, it has mental activities, physical exercise recommendations and nutrition advice.
“So it’s basically an all-in-one package for helping people cope with their condition.”
One of MindMate’s masterstrokes is that its array of features extends as Scotland’s demographic ages. Simple usability functions such as larger buttons have been specifically integrated to assist older or ailing individuals.
Apps can also streamline aspects of care previously constrained by time and availability of advice. For those without assistance surrounding them, simple tasks such as properly taking medicines become more complicated, and even dangerous.
These worries have led the creation of Medsmart by the Talking Medicines Group. Jo Halliday, co-founder of Talking Medicines, also spoke to DIGIT to give an introduction to Medsmart, launching next month.
Jo said that by utilising a vast database of medications, Medsmart advises users on correct dosages, timings and allergy advice. All of this information comes from the app – a handy audible “single access point” similar to having a GP in the home.
“We used to work on a bespoke basis, for example with Lloyd’s Pharmacy – if they wanted a solution for asthma adherence, we would come up with a digital app specifically for that problem.
“But what we saw was an opportunity to engage with the end user.”
Jo said: “It’s beneficial because a pharma company might only be interested in one disease area, but the end user might have multiple medicines. And that gets confusing.”
Talking Medicines estimate that worldwide medical-adherence is only 50%, costing around $500 billion every year.
“Users can scan their medicine’s bar code, and be linked to safe information about that medicine – what it is, how to take it, while also showing audio-visual clips to help them. We are trying to do all of this in a really user-friendly way.”
A realisation of the benefits that MindMate and MedSmart could deliver drove their creation. Both of the apps were inspired by personal experiences.
The MindMate team were struck by the passing of COO Roger Arellano’s grandfather, who had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for several years. Patrick has also spent time in a care facility in Germany, and their intimate contact with those impaired made them want to develop a product focused on the user.
After the development of an original prototype, the team was contacted by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. MindMate was then trialled for 2 months by nurses, care homes and focus groups, and Patrick and Roger’s experiences meant a positive reception to the app’s assistive features and exercises.
Similarly, Jo said that Medsmart was created in direct response to frustration expressed amongst users who could not name or use their medicines properly. But Jo noted that these concerns are far from unfounded, and a simple mistake could translate into real danger.
“You might think that during a consultation people will be assured. But when some are confronted by Google, they’ve got a lot of options and they don’t know what to believe.”
The group has worked with bodies including the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to solve this problem by building an extensive but secure database of around 17,000 UK medicines.
Jo noted that the end user will benefit from a free app helping them to understand their medicines, while pharma companies will be able to analyse aggregate patterns to hone their products further while not compromising the security of the individual.
After localised starts both of the teams have received international recognition but with increased recognition can come the need to address patients with more complicated ailments. Both MindMate and Talking Medicines are keeping focused on consolidating their apps to keep the experience as consistent and helpful as possible.
Patrick noted that MindMate was honing the service that it provides by refining its back-end structure through user-feedback. The team is also hoping to make the app more comprehensive by collaborating with pharma companies on R&D, potentially increasing its scope ever further.
While Medsmart is primed for launch in April of this year, Talking Medicines has also gained wider attention.
The app has received support from the Scottish Institute for Enterprise (SIE), Scottish Development International (SDI) and has been featured on the BBC.