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NICE supports use of apps to support behaviour changes

GPs and other health professionals should consider recommending digital and mobile interventions

Ingrid Torjesen

Friday, 24 January 2020

Health professionals can consider digital and mobile interventions as a supplement to regular services to support behaviour change in people at risk of developing chronic conditions, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has said in a draft guideline.

The guideline says that digital interventions such as apps, wearable devices and online programmes and websites may help people achieve health goals, such as becoming more physically active, managing their weight, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake or reducing unsafe sexual behaviour.

NICE says that digital tools should be offered in addition to existing health and care services, not as a replacement. It recommends using digital tools from expert sources when possible, such as Public Health England and the NHS apps library, to ensure the content has been assessed for safety, effectiveness and data security.

Examples of apps provided by Public Health England include Couch to 5K, a programme which helps people increase their activity gradually until they can run five kilometres; Change4Life Food Scanner, a scanner that allows people to review the health rating of their groceries to help make more informed choices; Easy Meals, healthy recipe inspiration; Smoke Free, a four-week programme that provides practical support, encouragement and tailored advice to help quit smoking; and Drink Free Days, an app for tracking drinking habits and setting goals.

Examples of apps that have been assessed by the NHS include iPrescribe Exercise, which is free and creates a 12-week exercise plan based on health information set by the user, and Sugarmedown, a subscription app that allows users to monitor how much added sugar they eat and offers a 12-week programme of food plans and workouts.

Paul Chrisp, director of NICE’s centre for guidelines, said: “Digital interventions for behaviour change could help people make important improvements to their lifestyle, which may reduce their risk of developing serious chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“Clinicians may choose to consider these interventions as an option to work alongside traditional health care services towards a change in behaviour.” 

While highlighting the potential benefit of digital interventions, NICE acknowledges the importance of clinicians emphasising that patients should not rely on the apps as a way of avoiding seeing a professional and uncertainty of their effectiveness when used alone.

A consultation on the draft recommendations closes on 6 March 2020.

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