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Christine Kern
August 08, 2016

Building a Better Healthcare App

Americans are becoming more and more health conscious every day, and with the proliferation of smart devices, keeping track of our health is getting easier. One sure way to get Americans to pay attention to their bodies is through the use of healthcare apps. In fact, medical apps are exploding in the Apple and Android app stores, and smartphone users with chronic conditions have already unlocked the power of healthcare apps and other users are not far behind.

With the medical app market expanding from its $490 million 2015 level, when 40 percent of sales came from health monitoring apps, it seems that the opportunity is ripe for developers to get into the action.

One recent report published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research  found that one in three mobile users with chronic conditions is already using apps to help them manage their health. And yet, according to a 2014 report co-authored by Murray Aiken, executive director of the IMS Institute of Healthcare Informatics, almost half (46 percent) of the medical apps available from the Apple store were not actually healthcare apps at all, according to an IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics infographic on mHealth News and just 159 of the 43,700 apps had the ability to track or capture user data.

So what makes for a good app?

Best Practices for App Development

Tailor your apps to your audience.

Consider your target audience before development begins. How will users find your app? What is the goal of your app? Have you consulted with the proper authorities to ensure that your development process reflects both clinical and lifestyle realities in achieving its intended goal for users?

Figure out how your apps can help change behaviors for better health outcomes.

As a Fox News report pointed out, there was a 19 percent increase in new apps from 2012 to 2013. “the ultimate goal of most of these apps is to change behavior,” explained Scott Snyder, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mobiquity, a mobile engagement provider. “To do that, we have to treat each user differently to see what moves them. Mobile devices are the most transformative to be able to do that.”

Check the App stores for current options.

Before launching a new app, do your research. Are other apps currently being offered that do the same thing? Though there is always room for competition, be sure that your app will have a market before you launch it.

Keep it user-friendly and simple.

Users want apps that are easy to navigate and that provide clear data and results. Complicating your new app unnecessarily will hamper its adoption by new users. The app should be easy to understand with descriptions to accompany graphics and additional instructions for use. Graphics alone are not enough for most users to determine how to interpret the app. Clear instructions are necessary.

Create apps with an eye towards security.

Developed in conjunction with HHS Office for Civil Rights and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, “Examining Oversight of the Privacy & Security of Health Data Collected By Entities Not Regulated by HIPAA” examines the lack of guidance around access to and protection of consumer health information used by entities that are not covered under current HIPAA regulations and found that “key gaps” remain for non-entities including healthcare apps.  A recent FTC report also investigated the scope of data-sharing and collection in all sectors. Be sure to develop your new healthcare apps with an eye to ensuring the privacy and security of your users protected health information. Check out these tips from Future of Privacy and the Center for Democracy and Technology to help improve your security strategies.

Get a second opinion from potential users and professionals.

Before you release the app, give it a test-drive with your market audience and other healthcare stakeholders. This will help ensure that the app actually does what you think it will and that users find it approachable and usable. Test the finished app several times with different users. If there are bugs, resolve them, and test the results again.

Involve stakeholders.

Since healthcare apps also involve patient privacy and data security issues, it is imperative to involve all stakeholders in their developments to ensure that you are meeting regulations and requirements and adequately protecting the privacy of your users.

For those interested in app development, staying on top of developments in overall mobile healthcare is crucial to success. Building a better healthcare mobile app depends on keeping an eye towards all the relevant pieces to provide a product that is useful, clear, and easy to operate and understand.

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