When people ask you what EMR means, how many hospitals are in the area, or what’s the best way to understand your patients, you tell them “google it.” But when they ask you how to do something—track your heart rate, book an appointment, pay bills, consult with a doctor online—you say “you know, there’s an app for that.”
Because most likely, there is. There’s an app for almost everything these days—and the healthcare industry is no exception.
Application development for health uses is becoming more and more popular. In fact, as of this year, there are over 45,000 medical-related apps available in the Apple App Store alone.
The healthcare app industry is poised for growth, and for organizations looking to get into that space, it helps to know exactly how the process works.
7 steps to building an effective healthcare application
How do you design, develop, and deploy an application for the healthcare industry? Whatever development methodology is followed—waterfall, RAD, agile—there are a couple of steps involved in the application development process.
The first step, like for anything else, is to prepare a clear and actionable plan for the application. Start by thinking about what health-problem or pain point you’re trying to solve and consider whether it can be answered with an app.
You have to be as specific as possible here. Basically, you should fill in the blanks: When a patient or user needs to ____, my app will come in handy.
By identifying this need, you can also define what outcome is expected. What real-life application will patients get by using the app? Is it the ability to track their health, connect with doctors, or get relevant and personalized information about their condition?
During this process, you should also be able to define who your target users are: young or old, male or female, local or worldwide.
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This would also be a good time to conduct a competitive analysis. Are there competitors and if so, is there enough market space for your organization to tap into?If you determine that there’s enough demand, you can also take a look at the features of competing applications to get insight and inspiration.
And lastly, you have to ensure the profitability of the application you’re trying to build. Define the monetization strategy. Will you be requiring an upfront cost or in-app purchases? It’s worth noting that the subscription business model generates the most money, with 36% of developers attesting to the fact.
Now that you’ve laid out your plan, it’s time to get into the specifics. In this stage of the process, your goal is to document all the user, software, and hardware requirements of the app.
This way, you can determine what features to focus on and anticipate what problems might come up during development. For example, will your application be available in several platforms—mobile phone, tablet, and on the web?
Having multiple touchpoints means different requirements and optimization strategies. If you envision just a mobile app, you’ll also need to decide whether it should be built for Android or iOS or both.
As for functionalities, will it need internet connectivity? And will it benefit from integrating with the user’s camera (for telemedicine), other fitness apps and wearables (for health monitoring), or even from hospital’s electronic medical records (for patient data and appointment scheduling)? These integrations will also need to be analyzed and laid out in detail.
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And lastly, but certainly not the least, make sure that the application complies with healthcare regulations such as the HIPAA Privacy Rule and Security Rule. Healthcare is one of the most regulated industries and compliance is strictly monitored. If your app turns out to be noncompliant, it risks being removed, fined, or shut down altogether.
Based on the analysis conducted, visualize how the app will work and how patients and users will experience it. After all, it’s not enough to just build a great app—it must also provide a great user experience.
A patient trying to book an appointment will use an app because it is convenient. If it has a poor user interface that obstructs them from doing a simple function, they’ll just pick up a phone to get the job done.
To do it right, start by finalizing the application features list. Remove unnecessary ones and focus only on the core value, or what the desired outcome is. This will enable you to create an MVP (minimum viable product) of your app that will shorten the time-to-market. Any nice-to-have features can come later as updates.
Next is the actual app design. It’s during this stage where a mock-up or prototype of the app is created. This usually includes high-level design details such as the flow control and structure and different navigation patterns, and more granular aspects such as buttons, font section, and other UI objects.
Now comes the actual building. This is the stage where all the previous planning, analyzing, and designing efforts are implemented. Using the requirements and design plan as a guideline, your in-house or outsourced development team will begin the actual programming and code the app.
When the app’s built out, you’ll need to make sure that it works as intended, that document requirements are met, and that it’s free of major bugs. As many know, there is not much room for error in the healthcare space—much less its apps.
It is a mandatory that the app goes through a stringent security audit as well as system tests, integration tests, performance tests, user acceptance tests, quality tests, and debugging to make sure everything is in order. It is critical to ensure your app is secure to protect the app users and all their sensitive data.
You’ll also want to get as much feedback as possible during this stage, so consider running the app past target users by conducting a beta test. Use the positive and negative feedback gained to make iterations to the application. Repeat this process until you deem the application is ready for release.
Congratulations! Your application is ready to go live. Make the app available to use in the platforms that you’ve identified in Step 1. It will likely go through a review process first, but this is also a good time to make some noise. Promote your new healthcare application on social media or even through your network of doctors, hospitals, and clinics.
Building apps is not a one-time thing. You’ll most likely go through this process over and over again, especially if you’re following the Agile methodology.
So when the first version of the app is live, don’t just stop here. Invest in an application maintenance and support process as well. Monitor feedback, make iterations, continue debugging, and offer support to your users. Remember those nice-to-have features you identified? This will be a good time to pursue those functionalities.
Time to develop that app
The healthcare app market will only continue to grow—and for good reason. Because it offers a much-needed convenience, apps are being used by patients everywhere to manage their medical conditions, get personalized medical assistance, check symptoms, and more. There are a lot of factors that go into how application development is done, but the process outlined above will give you a solid foundation.