The healthcare app revolution can dramatically improve patients’ health or cause more problems than it solves. Smart hospitals, clinics, and physicians are flocking to mobile app development as a way to strengthen trust and build their value proposition relationships with increasingly tech-savvy patients.
So, if you are not thinking about healthcare application development yet, you should.
According to a 63-page report authored by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, the number of mobile health apps being sold – and offered free of charge – has doubled to more than 165,000 since 2015.
Nearly 110,000 address diet, fitness, and stress – in other words, “lifestyle issues”. People dealing with mental health issues, diabetes, and other diseases are seeking out apps that deal specifically with their afflictions.
Surprisingly, only 6% of those apps are for reminders to take medications and educate about possible interactions and side effects. Pregnancy and Female health concerns are addressed by 7% of new apps.
Technology Delivers Efficiency
At the base of the app revolution is improved patient health. Bells and whistles aside, real benefits are easily measured when smartphones enter the healthcare ecosystem. For instance:
Paramedics and EMTs rapidly gain access to life-saving information.
Hospital and clinic personnel can retrieve medical history records such as historic blood pressure readings, pulse/heart rate, known allergies, immunizations, even digital x-rays, medical histories, and case-notes.
Outpatients are reminded to take medications and return for follow-up appointments.
Hospital administration can notify and coordinate changing shift nurses about food intake, medication sensitivities, etc.
Take Two Aspirin and Call Me in the Morning
The casual advice offered in a simpler time by doctors has given way to an avalanche of medications with elaborate instructions, multiple potential interactions, and symptoms/reactions for which patients must be aware.
With easy-to-use apps, patients can obtain information placed there by doctors, message a nurse to ensure day- and time-stamped communications (while avoiding phone-tag problems) and even schedule an in-person checkup.
App Development that Streamlines Healthcare Billing
Modern medical care brings an onslaught of issues that affect the bottom line. When patients cancel appointments, those slots can be easier to fill, using a custom-designed app with inbuilt communication capabilities that alert other patients of these newly-available days & times.
As well, billing invoices can be automatically deployed to insurance companies and captured for accurate record-keeping by office managers and hospital personnel responsible for untangling the red tape of billing and payment processing.
Pitfalls of mHealth Apps
1. Regulations are minimal or nonexistent
By touting benefits, mHealth apps can generate significantly more sales. Since no single body oversees efficacy of claims, end-users’ expectations may far exceed quantitative and qualitative accuracy.
The Food and Drug Administration has generally pursued a hands-off approach, having approved roughly one out of every 1,000 apps geared for the health and wellness consumers.
2. Inaccurate research data
Neither state nor federal government agencies have established guidelines for precision requirements regarding data collection, analysis, or reporting.
Private companies that share collected data are not held to a defined standard regarding accuracy, demographic diversity, or other types of quantifiable variables.
As a result, research studies are producing skewed results that can lead to bad public health policies and misguided planning by healthcare institutions.
3. Incompatible technology
Some mobile healthcare apps are created with newer programming languages; scanning, recording and reporting technologies. Problems crop up when a doctor’s office or hospital emergency room is not yet equipped to receive and integrate collected data.
Patients’ heart rates, cholesterol levels, and other vital signs, once collected, may be trapped in cyberspace, instead of serving the purpose of furthering proper treatment.
4. Security can be compromised
Unless you’re extremely careful, it can be all too easy to run afoul of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) regulations, designed to protect patients’ personal data.
Security should be the top priority when embarking on custom healthcare application development; not simply in respect of patients, but also to avoid potentially expensive penalties that can run between $100 and $50,000 per individual violation.
Creating an App
First, decide which market you want to serve within the broad category of “healthcare”.
The statistics portal, Statista.com, indicates that consumer apps nearly double the amount of the apps targeted at professional healthcare workers.
Interestingly, more nurses (72%) compared to doctors (62%) use apps on their tablets and smartphones for daily care.
If we assume that market forces accurately indicate interest level, you can then focus on a sub-category.
Patient App Usage Examples
- General Wellness
- Nutrition / Diet
- Managing existing medical conditions
- Alerts / Reminders for medications, appointments
- Monitoring and remote consultation
Professional Healthcare Worker Usage Examples
- Appointment and Meeting day / time setting
- Medical records – storage and retrieval of prescriptions, digital image scans, etc.
- Information & time management (setting appointments and meetings)
- Consultative communication (messaging, voice/video, social networks)
- Research medical literature – available medications, CDC reports, and medical news – that affects broad populations
- Data aggregation / review to interpret test results, diagnose, examine lab research
- Monitoring of patients’ symptoms, rehab routine adherence, etc.
- Education – prepare for tests, read studies / medical journal articles, etc.
Make America – or the Rest of the World – Great (again)?
Within the next three years, the healthcare application market is expected to reach $60B. Four years ago HIPAA was amended via the Final Omnibus Rule update. Its goal has been to encompass the global digital revolution that affects patients and expands outward to include organizations beyond traditional hospitals, clinics, doctors, technicians, etc.
In the United States, there is a single medical expert per 350 patients; whereas the number of people served in China by one physician is nearly triple that amount! The ratio of patients to medical experts in India is an amazing 1500 to 1.
Therefore, the demand for remote communications to manage healthcare may indeed be greater in the countries whose healthcare infrastructure is less advanced than the America’s modern system. Regardless of the availability of technology, people must be willing to embrace its use. On the other hand, peoples’ psychological beliefs involving the actual use of apps, as it relates to their personal healthcare, may mean that usage occurs more frequently.
Thus, the particular functionality of any app, should be considered before diving headlong into design and programming.