Health Technology has never held a more prominent place in the IT industry. The recent pandemic and related health concerns have pushed health technology and mobile health applications (mHealth apps) to the forefront, and many innovative new applications have entered the market. The mHealth apps to track and help with the COVID pandemic are a prime example of these. Working with massive amounts of data from various sources the creators of these apps had little time to find clear and creative ways to help people to gain access to that information, and to help use it to turn the tide against the pandemic.
How do we define mHealth applications?
Health apps, in contrast to medical applications, don't provide formal treatment. They are more generic, providing information or services to the general public, providing information, promoting wellbeing, or gathering data and analytics on ongoing health situations. Some examples are apps to track your fitness trackers, diet apps, exercise monitoring apps, or apps that enable users to quickly and easily make consultations with health practitioners, and even place orders for medication etc.
Health care providers have not been overlooked in the mHealth arena. Investing in mobile applications can help practices improve coordination between practitioners and patients, manage staff and equipment, verify insurance and payments etc.
What do we need to focus on when developing mHealth apps?
Developing any application comes with a set of challenges that must be faced and overcome to create an app that provides a proper solution and experience to end users. Some main things to consider when developing an mHealth app are:
Market analysis and digital strategy
While not strictly speaking a part of the development cycle, this first step is crucial to develop a successful app. While you may start off with an idea of what you want to develop, it is important to conduct a thorough study of the market to understand your potential customers. Who will your end users be? Have you identified an application that will be of real use to them? Do you solve a real world problem or a theoretical one? How will your application be used? Do you have any competitors already in the market? Have you studied how to monetise your application? What is your marketing strategy?
All of these are questions that need to be answered before even the first line of code is written.
The success of any application depends on its adoption. Good UX is one of the main driving forces behind the adoption of applications in the market. UX is especially important for applications that may be used by a sector of the public that may be in a more vulnerable state. Easy access to information, presentation of information in a calm manner, simplicity of design, non-jarring visuals, readability, and connectivity are but a few of the general considerations that need attention. Apart from these considerations there can be a host more depending on the type of application being developed.
Cross app communication
Many health applications read and provide data to multiple sources and applications. This helps the applications and the users to keep abreast of current happenings, while helping the general public to remain informed of the latest state during any health emergency. Additionally many mHealth apps used in practises have to integrate with the applications currently in use on premise, or at least provide interfacing to these applications. Without this interoperability the entire information ecosystem breaks down. This is why most mHealth app creators ensure that their applications are able to work well with others.
Given the importance of mHealth applications in our day to day life, uptime is another major design consideration. Use of cloud technology and services provides one of the best cases for the development and hosting of mHealth applications.
Security and regulatory compliance
While these applications may not hold in depth medical information on patients, it is still imperative that personal data held within these applications are given all security considerations. Encryption of personal data, and strong authentication protocols must be observed if users are to have confidence in your application. While mHealth applications may not have to cater to the stricter regulatory measures, they still have several hoops to jump through, especially if they are provided access to information or integrated with internal systems from health practitioners.
mHealth application development is both an exciting and profitable space to be in right now. However, in addition to the challenges faced by normal app development teams, mHealth app development comes with an additional set of challenges that development teams must face. In overcoming these challenges we are able to develop applications that both serve the public and rack up a tidy profit.