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Was the Test and Trace app doomed to failure from the beginning?

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The Government spent £25m on the Test & Trace app, but there’s been widespread criticism of the system and its impact on the spread of the Coronavirus. Mike Rhodes of ConsultMyApp tells Health Tech World that it was doomed to failure before it started

Over the past 12 months, the NHS has undergone a complete overhaul in how it delivers healthcare. Physicians have embraced a rapid roll out of digital healthcare solutions, with online medical consultations in the UK rising from just 2 percent in March 2020 to over 80 percent a month later. Now, nearly 9-in-10 GP prescriptions are issued electronically – a significant boom in comparison to the 20 percent year-on-year growth GPs were experiencing prior to the pandemic.

Mike Rhodes – ConsultMyApp

With the rise of digital healthcare and the move to a total online triage system being a relative success, there remains one question – how did the government’s attempt to deliver a world-class test and trace system fail so catastrophically?

The recent news that the NHS Test & Trace system had ‘no clear impact’ on transmission levels came as no surprise given the app’s disastrous performance throughout the pandemic. Despite the government spending a staggering £25m on the highly anticipated app, Test & Trace has failed to live up to expectations and only curbed the transmission of coronavirus by 2-5 percent last year. This is unsurprising given that only 48 percent of mobile phones were compatible with the app, and users that did download Test & Trace were offered little incentive to engage with the platform.

It’s clear that the government and its never-ending band of consultants have failed to understand the very basics of app development, marketing and user engagement, that would have otherwise ensured the system was running to an optimal level.

The in-app communication, onboarding for new users and notification systems are all well-below the standard even a junior developer could have produced, resembling the workings of someone trying to create an artificial intelligence bot with a copy of Excel. The government’s poor recruitment of talent for Test & Trace has resulted in users being inaccurately notified of COVID-exposure, told to isolate for additional time, or failing to notify users at all, all of which has led to significant uninstall numbers and a lost opportunity to protect the wellbeing of individuals up and down the country.

With the right expertise, developing an app is simple, but as Test and Trace shows, ensuring an app’s success is far more complex than registering the platform and attracting active users. ConsultMyApp offered to help the Government with its app marketing and management pro-bono to navigate these challenges, but was met with silence; the same silence that BrewDog’s CEO was met with when he offered his pub premises to help out with the vaccination programme.

With most other apps, this basic level of development and marketing may simply be a reason to uninstall or move to a competitor app, but with Test & Trace it is quite literally a case of life and death. Achieving downloads on only 40 percent of the potential devices is, quite simply, a travesty.

Compare this to user engagement for the digital healthcare company Doctor Care Anywhere who, over the past 12 months, has experienced a 390 percent rise in monthly consultations and now covers over 2 million customers in the UK – up 186.2 percent on the previous year. The difference is obvious. Doctor Care Anywhere is supported by proven developers and app-native marketing specialists, whilst Test & Trace recruited overpriced consultants with little experience building and marketing solid native apps. This dramatic contrast only highlights the potential that could have been achieved with the Test & Trace app, if the government had followed the same app procedures as almost all successful businesses during the pandemic.

With the renewed debate around vaccine passports gaining traction, now it is imperative that the government looks to the real experts in the field of app-development, marketing & user engagement to help implement this next crucial step for Test & Trace.

The addition of a vaccine passport offers a crucial opportunity to increase the app’s uptake and engagement to 80 percent+ across society. However, if the government sticks to the status quo, it will only amount to yet another disastrous failure – with society paying the price.

Ultimately, Test & Trace was not only faulty at its core, but it also failed to recognise that in order to drive installs and retain users, app optimization and pre and post-acquisition marketing was essential. However, with the right expertise, there is still time for Test & Trace to have a significant impact on infection rates and help society to regain some remnants of normality moving forward. Now it is up to the government to recognise their mistakes and accept that in order to make the app a success, they must turn to the industry experts.

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