Reflecting on the success around ORCHA’s Digital Healthy Schools, CEO and NIA Fellow, Liz Ashall-Payne, discusses how digital health apps can positively impact young people, with education delivered as part of the PHSE curriculum in schools.
We live in a digital world and none are more digitally savvy than our young people. Over 90% of under 16s in the UK own a mobile, and their relationship with this device is more than just a phone – it’s an extension of who they are.
Access to social media, the internet, gaming and the multitude of apps available via these devices is not always impacting behaviour in a positive way. However, we understand that young people regard their smartphones as a source for information and recommendations. We have a greater opportunity to positively impact and change behaviours by engaging with young people in a forum they understand and approve of.
Digital health apps are a powerful tool to help young people make better choices, but whilst there are many apps that work, there are also apps that can have a negative impact. So how do we take a route to engaging young people that we know works, and still safeguard them from potential risks?
ORCHA is one of the innovations on the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA). It equips a growing number of NHS and local government organisations in supporting their populations to help prevent and assist in the management of health challenges through the uptake of digital health apps. The service ORCHA provides enables thousands of health care professionals to embrace the world of digital health apps and positively impact change within their communities, with the knowledge that every app recommended has been rigorously tested and reviewed.
As part of ORCHA’s mission to remove the barriers that currently inhibit the true potential of digital health care solutions, it has looked at how digital health apps can positively impact our young people and become part of the curriculum delivered in PHSE lessons.
Introducing Digital Healthy Schools
This unique approach called ‘Digital Healthy Schools’, is a library of online health apps and learning programmes that safeguard young people from using harmful apps, whilst helping them to learn how to integrate the use of good apps in their everyday life, to support their mental health and wellbeing.
Digital Healthy Schools also encourages pupils to learn more about health conditions whilst exploring the topic of app development and how apps are reviewed to ensure the information they are given is factual and safe.
To understand and ensure that this approach was effective, ORCHA has worked with schools across Lancashire, South Cumbria and Essex.
Pupils gained insight and information on the apps that are safe and effective, with discussions focussing on health conditions most common amongst these age groups, including nutrition, mental health and oral care.
The impact of Digital Healthy Schools being integrated into the curriculum has been hugely positive – and not just with the pupils. There was also a positive impact for family and friends, with an average of four apps being shared and recommended by pupils to their families.
During this test pilot, there was a 217% increase in the awareness of health apps with the pupils involved, and a 62% increase in the trust they had with health apps once they understand how to identify any potential risks. After the course there was a reduction of 28% of pupils trusting all apps.
Here’s what pupils and teachers at Witton Park Academy in Lancashire thought about Digital Healthy Schools.
One student explained: “Since the course I have been more active. I used to get a car to school but now I walk. There’s a fitness app that counts your steps, gets you more active, and gives you rewards for everything you do – it’s really getting me out of the house a lot more. I think everyone I know should use this app.”
Another pupil added: “Before I started using digital health apps, I didn’t really think it would help me in any way, but they really do track how you’re feeling, your state of mind, physical state – so it really does help.”
Other students told the ORCHA team that the digital apps that were discussed and recommended during the course have helped them make positive changes, from drinking more water to helping them sleep and become more alert in class.
Head Teacher, Steve Archer, said: “There are a number of students who say that they have actively made changes to their lifestyles, which is really positive as it seems young people are taking responsibility for their long-term health.”
For Witton Park Academy and other schools participating in the program, Digital Healthy Schools has achieved the positive impact that ORCHA had anticipated.
Steve Archer added: “To colleagues in other schools, I would say that we shouldn’t miss any opportunity to promote the wellbeing and health of our young people. They ultimately are our future.”
Empowering young people to better understand their health
A child with a mental health issue will take, on average, ten years to ask for help from experiencing the first symptom. When you consider statistics like this, education through schools and empowering young people to better understand their own health and the health of those around them through safe and trusted digital apps, can only positively impact change and the healthy development of the next generation.
For more information about ORCHA’s Digital Healthy Schools programme, email email@example.com