NHS health and social care staff offered training on healthcare apps

Health service staff have free access to training courses to help them understand which digital healthcare apps and websites are best for their patients

All NHS and social care staff can access free training to help them understand the apps and websites they can recommend to patients, through an NHS-approved education platform.

The Digital Health Academy courses are available on the Health Education England NHS Learning Hub. The training supports doctors, nurses and clinicians in building an understanding of which digital healthcare apps and websites they can recommend to patients.

It will fill a knowledge and skills gap in the NHS by bringing staff up to date with digital advancements in health. With millions of health apps being downloaded by people, the NHS has an opportunity to recommend which are the best for patients, but front-line staff are not trained to do so.

Neil Ralph, head of Health Education England technology enhanced learning, said Covid-19 accelerated the rapid adoption of digital health across health and care services, and the need to embed digital health in the long term.  

Former speech and language therapist Liz Ashall-Payne, CEO and founder of ORCHA, which built the Digital Health Academy, told Computer Weekly: “When doctors prescribe a drug, they are trained in medication and now doctors, nurses and therapists might want to recommend a technology to a patient, but they are not trained on what to recommend and how.”

Ashall-Payne said that after 20 years working in the NHS as a speech and language therapist, she because interested in digital health because, as a clinician, she wanted to help more people. “When I heard about digital healthcare and saw that everyone was buying smartphones, I thought it was really interesting because, for example, you can send a digital health app to millions of people,” she said.

“But the problem we have is that, although there are hundreds of thousands of digital technologies and health apps, people don’t know which ones to trust and when you look at the quality of these apps, only 20% actually meet the quality criteria you would expect.”

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Ashall-Payne said that every day, millions of people will download a health app, and there is an opportunity for the NHS to start recommending the best and the safest for their patients. “But the problem is, staff are not trained for it,” she added.

Through the ORCHA training modules, the journey towards providing training for everyone in the NHS can start, said Ashall-Payne.

A survey from ORCHA revealed that while 65% of the public are open to trying digital health technologies, only 17% of recommendations come from GPs, 8% from hospital doctors, and 2% from nurses. Digital health training is not currently mandated for health and care professionals, and there are few courses that frontline workers can attend.

Michelle Webster, chief clinical information officer and consultant clinical psychologist at Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Partnership Trust, said the platform helps to demystify digital health. “It strengthens our clinicians’ digital skills and boosts their confidence in using healthcare apps,” she said.

Organisers expect up to 50,000 health and care staff to be trained in the first year of the platform’s availability.

Funding from pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim ensures that the courses are free to NHS staff. Uday Bose, managing director at Boehringer Ingelheim, said: “With six million people now waiting for elective care, and with first-class digital tools available which could support healthcare workers with many of the high-volume and low-complexity cases, the need to improve digital skills and digital confidence in the NHS has become critical.”

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