Healthcare services are under pressure due to increasing chronic conditions in an ageing population. This is compounded by increasing public expectations of the National Health Service (NHS) and the COVID-19 pandemic. The pressure on services is partly due to the NHS being ‘re-active’ as opposed to a ‘pro-active’ service. Pro-active services in the form of digital health apps can help prevent illness and reduce pressures. Therefore, mobile health apps are becoming a core part of a proactive healthcare system to promote self-care amongst citizens, and to ensure that the NHS maintains ‘equal access for equal need’.

Ulster’s research shows that using health apps is associated with healthy intentions (Carroll et al., 2017). By 2034, digital care is projected to become standard care. In tandem with this increased emphasis on health apps, there is a need to evaluate and regulate these apps formally since many are sub-standard, untrustworthy and harmful. To date, most frameworks (including NHS DAQ, ISO and the NICE ESF) that examine health-app safety and quality have tended to focus on clinical efficacy and security and lack rigorous assessment of the app’s User Experience (UX) and usability. ORCHA have their own product that is being used to assess and ‘score’ thousands of health apps, but only one-third of the ORCHA tool relates to UX assessment.

The aim of this PhD is to provide much-needed research-data informed ‘UX’ knowledge to assess, regulate and validate health apps. The contribution to knowledge and innovation will be the use of a new data-driven approach to UX assessment. ORCHA is the World’s leading assessor of health apps. Working with NHS England, GGZ etc. ORCHA have used their product with customers to assess over 5,000 health-apps using a 300-question assessment tool, providing a dataset of ~1.5 million data points.

The PhD researcher will analyse this dataset using data science and statistical modelling techniques to inform and develop the next generation of health app UX assessment tools which will be products offered by ORCHA. The research will provide an unparalleled examination of real-world UX data of health apps. The researcher will combine this data with end-user review data by ‘review mining’ user reviews/star ratings on app stores. The researcher will compare how health apps are reviewed/scored by expert assessors using the ORCHA tool, with how the end-users rate and qualitatively assess the app. The researcher will use their findings to design and trial new health app assessment knowledge and tools.

This work can inform/impact on,

  1. The future formal assessment of health apps in a commercial service,
  2. National/international guidelines,
  3. Safer/trusted health apps,
  4. Better public health.

The candidate should have a working interest in one of more of the following areas: digital health, data analytics and UX. This PhD has been funded as a CAST award and includes a large budget for travel, consumables and attending conferences.

Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • For VCRS Awards, Masters at 75%
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • Publications record appropriate to career stage

This project is funded by: DfE CAST award in collaboration with ORCHA

The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 17,500 (tbc) per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

The Doctoral College at Ulster University


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As Senior Engineering Manager of Analytics at Seagate Technology I utilise the learning from my PhD ever day

Adrian Johnston - PhD in Informatics

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I started my PhD at Ulster University after I received the master degree in computer application and technology from the School of Mathematics and Computer Science, Fujian Normal University, China. My research interests are feature extraction, face verification and pattern recognition.The proudest moments of my PhD when my papers were accepted by journals and I received my PhD certificate. It is a long journey to pursue a PhD, I couldn't have got through this without the constant support, help and encouragement from my supervisors and friends. Many thanks all of them.

Huan Wan - PhD in Computer Science and Informatics

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I received the bachelor’s of engineering degree in computer science and technology from Shangrao Normal University, Jiangxi, China, in 2013; and the master’s degree in computer application and technology from the School of Mathematics and Computer Science, Fujian Normal University, China. When I was pursuing a PhD degree at Ulster University, I continued my research on face recognition and image representation.This long journey has only been possible due to the constant support and encouragement of my first supervisor. I also like to thank my second supervisor for his patience, support and guidance during my research studies. My favourite memory was the days of exercising, gathering and playing with my friends here. If I could speak to myself at the start of my PhD, the best piece of advice I would give myself would be "submit more papers to Journals instead of conferences".

Xin Wei - PhD in Computer Science and Informatics

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After master’s degree, I joined the Artificial Intelligence Research Group in the School of Computing at Ulster University to pursue my PhD. I would like to thank my supervisors for their guidance, invaluable advice, encouragement and support throughout my PhD.My proudest moments were when my research papers were accepted in prestigious conferences and journals. I feel accomplished about the six first-author publications from my doctoral research. Also, I have had the honour of receiving the Best Student Paper Award at the 2018 International FLINS Conference.I love travelling; my favourite memories were travelling to present my research in addition to getting the opportunity to meet leading researchers from different parts of the world. And I couldn't have achieved this without the support of my friends and family.

Niloofer Shanavas - PhD in Computer Sciences and Informatics

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In the whole PhD ordeal, my supervisory team played a tremendous role:- they are three in a million. They are perfect supervisors who perfectly know which milestones or pathways to be taken during research initiatives, and they understand the roles of virtually all stages in the journey of PhD. They showcased superior abilities in managing and motivating me evoking high standards; demonstrating a commitment to excellence. Jane and Haiying guided me as their daughter and Fiona turned out to be the best of friends.I heard from “Eleanor Roosevelt” that “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” The dream with which I grew up to become a Doctor one day, has finally come true. In the journey of PhD, I embraced that a PhD is not just the highest degree in Education but rather it is a life experience where perseverance is the key. I can never forget words from my external examiner Prof Yike Guo, from Imperial College London. His words

Jyotsna Talreja Wassan - PhD in Computer Science and Informatics