Digital Healthcare 2012 – where’s your ID?

(Image credit: comedy_nose/Flickr)

As we start the new year, there’s been no shortage of predictions across the tech press of themes to watch in 2012. TechCrunch’s 6 Big HealthTech Ideas That Will Change Medicine In 2012 is perhaps the most relevant for our readership, and their top 6 read as follows:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Big Data
  • 3D Printing
  • Social health networks
  • Communications with doctors
  • Mobile

Given what we’re trying to achieve here at d4 (improve patient care by placing modern technology in the hands of health professionals), its heartening to see the last three make the list in particular.

However the one theme that the tech or consumer press haven’t picked up on for 2012 is the rather unsexy, but crucial, issue of identity assurance.

Digital Healthcare: a question of trust

As a patient, you might want access your medical history.  You may even want to share certain aspects of it with others (e.g. your new doctor, your specialist, your carer, your insurance company).

As a doctor, you’d like to make contact with a colleague.  Or make a referral to another health professional.  Or update a patient’s notes.  Or schedule surgery.

In addition to the above, as a taxpayer, a manager, a policy holder or a shareholder, you also want all of the above to be efficient, in terms of both time and money. Which in this age means you probably want this to be done online, and possibly remotely via mobile devices. Don’t forget this is healthcare, so you definitely want this to be confidential and safe (therefore certain aspects will almost certainly have to be regulated).

So far so good.  But picture the simple scenario of a patient discussing their medical history with their doctor online which raises two immediate problems:

  • How does the patient know who that the doctor is who they say they are, and vice versa?
  • How is the disclosure of sensitive data controlled?

Identity Assurance: one theme that fell under the radar in 2011…

In the UK, there was a strong backlash from some quarters over the last government’s plans to establish national ID Cards.  The plans were eventually scrapped.

But the issue hasn’t gone away entirely.  In a written statement to the House of Commons, the Minister for the Cabinet Office (Francis Maude), who is responsible for the Government Digital Service, introduced a new Identity Assurance Programme:

The Government agreed on 14 March 2011 to the development of a consistent, customer-centric approach to digital identity assurance across all public services. This will allow service users to log on safely to digital public services in a way that ensures personal privacy, reduces fraud and facilitates the move to online public services.


This is a cross-departmental initiative and the approach will be introduced in the near term through major Government initiatives such as DWP’s universal credits, NHS HealthSpace, HMRC’s one click programmes and the Skills Funding Agency.


By October 2011 we expect to have the first prototype of the identity assurance model to test with transactional Departments and public sector identity assurance services, with a date for implementation from August 2012.

It’s a bold statement.  However in the 7 months since it was written there have been few further announcements or additional detail shared with the public.  The main source appears to be the GDS blog, with only three posts thus far on the subject of ID Assurance.

… but watch this space in 2012

ID assurance online is complex, inherently technical and therefore comes across as a niche, nerdy subject. However it is a critical issue if more public sector services are to be delivered digitally, and adopted by a generally untrusting UK public.  Looking at UK public sector spending, health care is one of the largest components at over £100 billion. With less than 0.01% of this amount currently ear-marked for the Identity Assurance Programme at the moment, it is no surprise that this has flown somewhat under the radar.

But the scale of the issue, and the likely attention it will garner given its controversial nature, should not be under-estimated.  For example, the DWP recently issued a £200 million tender for Identity Assurance Services to support 21 million benefit claimants managed by the new Universal Credit system.  The tender was subsequently cancelled just before Christmas.  Despite the false start, it is expected to reappear in 2012.

If healthcare is going to becoming increasingly digital, being able to reliably identity and verify who is who, and authenticate and authorise the transfer of data between trusted parties, will be vital. Watch this space.

[Interested in reading more?   See the tag ‘ID Assurance’ on The Register, where journalist Kelly Fiveash has been hot on the trail.]

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Journal article: Palliative medicine and smartphones

Palliative medicine and smartphones: an opportunity for innovation” by Dr Amara Callistus Nwosu and Stephen Mason was recently published in the BMJ of Supportive and Palliative Care.  The article highlights the opportunity for smartphone technology to support palliative medicine, identifying six separate apps that are currently available on the market across five major smartphone operating systems.

The premise of the article is interesting in itself – a systematic search was required to find relevant apps for this discipline, as no other individual or organisation has signposted appropriate apps for this niche up until now. The results are also indicative of the maturity of the different app stores – all six apps found were available for Apple devices, two of these were also available on the Android OS, but none were available for BlackBerry, Microsoft or Windows smartphones.

The authors compare the relatively limited availability of apps for palliative medicine with orthopaedic surgery, where a recent exercise identified significantly more apps were available, and then go on to discuss the further opportunities and barriers for further smartphone use, across apps and other technologies such as social media.

The six palliative apps identified in the article are

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What was hot at mHealth Summit 2011: #mhs11 twitter analysis

Did you miss the mHealth Summit 2011 in Washington, DC?

Curious to know what was hot?  Here’s a frequency graph of Twitter traffic using the official #mhs11 hashtag.  Perhaps unsurprisingly the peaks co-incided with keynote speakers.

You may also want to check out our

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Twitter league tables for #MHS11

Archive stats

  • Total tweets: 5,657
  • Total twitterers: 1,232
  • Total hashtags tweeted: 428
  • Total URLs tweeted: 1,296

Top twitterers

  • The top 10 (0%) twitterers account for 17% (996) of the tweets.
  • 80% (4525) of the tweets in this archive were made by 29% (359) of the twitterers.
  • 54% (674) of the twitterers only tweeted once.
  1.  mhealthsummit (148)
  2.  LesMcP (138)
  3.  OrcaHealth (110)
  4.  MatthewBrowning (99)
  5.  ReachScale (91)
  6.  pjmachado (86)
  7.  JHUmHealth (85)
  8.  ekivemark (82)
  9.  SearchHealthIT (79)
  10.  HITNewsTweet (78)

Top @reply recipients and/or mentions

  • 63% (3617) of the tweets in this archive were @replies or mentions.
  • 19% (245) of the twitterers who tweeted as part of this archive received an @reply and/or mention.
  • Note: recipients marked ‘*’ did not tweet as part of this archive.
  1.  mhealthsummit (652)
  2.  mHealthAlliance (114)
  3.  OrcaHealth (97)
  4.  QualcommLife (96)
  5.  HITNewsTweet (94)
  6.  RWJF_PubHealth (75)
  7.  reginaholliday (63) *
  8.  LesMcP (61)
  9.  lisagualtieri (59)
  10.  PattyMechael (59)

Top URLs shared

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#MHS11 Twitter word cloud from day 3 – Dec 7th 2011

Word cloud of the Twitter feed on Day 3 of the mHealth Summit, as captured via the #MHS11 hashtag.

Excludes {mobile, health, summit} and all other abbreviations and variants.

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#MHS11 Twitter word cloud from day 2 – Dec 6th 2011

Word cloud of the Twitter feed on Day 2 of the mHealth Summit, as captured via the #MHS11 hashtag.

Excludes {mobile, health, summit} and all other abbreviations and variants.

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#MHS11 Twitter word cloud from day 1 – Dec 5th 2011

Word cloud of the Twitter feed on Day 1 of the mHealth Summit, as captured via the #MHS11 hashtag.

Excludes {mobile, health, summit} and all other abbreviations and variants.

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d4 to speak at DigiPharm Europe 2011 London

We will be speaking on day 2 of DigiPharm Europe 2011 being held in London this week.  We’ll be sharing our perspectives on mobile device use by health care professionals, including device and app usage. If you’d like to arrange a meeting with James, our CEO, please get in touch via

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Vodafone mHealth Professional launched today

Vodafone have launched a new offering for healthcare clients in the UK named mHealth Professional.  Today’s press release describes this as signalling “a change in the way healthcare professionals work, offering a step toward the future of healthcare delivery. At a time when the NHS is under increased pressure to drive efficiencies and find savings of £20 billion over the next four years, Vodafone UK is using its expertise in mobile technology to support the healthcare sector, helping to deliver improved patient care more efficiently.”

We wish them every success. Not enough is being done to promote the use of smart phone technology in the UK, so we welcome this move by one of the major mobile network operators.

Looking a little deeper at the proposition, it appears to be nothing more than a packaged offer of existing technologies.  But marketing specifically to NHS procurement teams with high-end solutions – patient management systems, lone worker protection, and data security – is a bold move that should be applauded.

We’ll watch with interest to see if healthcare employers can find the money to invest in such a solution.

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Google Translate – the most successful iOS app launch to date?

Could Google Translate be the most successful iOS app launch to date? We’ve watched its meteoric rise since its release this Wednesday to the #1 spot for UK top free apps on the d4 apps website / d4 apps mobile edition.

Ok, so Google Translate isn’t a totally new app – it was released for the Android platform back in January 2010, and there was a web app for the iPhone as early as August 2008. But what’s truly staggering is the truly international reach of Google’s services and the distribution power the company enjoys.  Within three days of launch, the native iOS Google Translate app is top of the Apple app charts for free downloads across all categories in over 80 countries.

Putting this success into perspective

Last month the Apple’s App Store passed the 10 billion apps downloaded mark.   To celebrate the occasion, Apple disclosed the most popular apps via this special iTunes page.  According to this page, the top 10 free apps of all time for the UK are as follows:

  1. Facebook
  2. eBay mobile
  3. Google Mobile App
  4. Shazam
  5. Skype
  6. Google Earth
  7. Bump
  8. Movies by Flixster – with Rotten Tomatoes
  9. Paper Toss
  10. AroundMe

The Facebook app never achieved more that 22 number 1 positions across the various country specific app stores.  Ditto Skype.  The Google mobile app managed 43 following its release in April 2009.

Two caveats immediately spring to mind – the algorithm used by Apple to determine an app’s popularity might have changed, and the number of country rankings available has likely increased over time as the App Store becomes more global.

But we predict that Google will continue to set the benchmark for successful app launches.

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