The nuts and bolts of building digital healthcare product

The current state of the digital healthcare market

The global digital health market is forecasted to reach over 500 billion dollars by 2025. That’s almost 6 times more than it was valued in 2018. The potential of this industry didn’t escape the notice of  VCs which fueled the health tech with $3.6 billion in Q1 2020. That’s the growth of 79% compared to the same quarter of 2019.

Digital Health funding

Source: Mercom

This astonishing growth is driven by some leading pillars of digital health and their rapid development:

  • mHealth - the mHealth apps market size is expected to reach $236.0 billion by 2026;
  • telemedicine - the growth of this vertical is expected to be valued at more than $175 billion by 2026
  • EHR/EMR systems - the share of office-based doctors in the USA using this technology raised from 18% in 2001 to 86 in 2017
  • Big Data - the foreseen global Big Data analytics in the healthcare market size is valued at $67.82 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 19.1% from 2018 to 2025. 

The numbers speak for themselves but it’s worth emphasizing that they are strongly anchored in long-term, multidimensional trends in both social and technological areas.

Aging society, shortage of healthcare staff, commonly occurring chronic diseases, and on the other side - the spread of internet and mobile devices, a growing amount of electronic medical data, and more and more sophisticated tech solutions. This combination of issues laid the foundations for the dynamic development of the eHealth industry.

Solutions used by both patients and physicians increase the effectiveness of prophylaxis, diagnosis, and treatment, make medical services more customized and accessible but less expensive at the same time. Conditions shaped by COVID-19 pandemic pushed the tempo of health tech growth even more encouraging startups to work on their new ideas and stimulating the existing companies to scale their products. So, if you're about to come up with an idea that can cover the particular needs of patients, physicians, or healthcare organizations - there are a lot of possibilities and potential lying in this industry. We've prepared a comprehensive guide about issues to consider while building a digital healthcare product. Make sure you'll follow every step to increase the odds of success! 

Identify a problem and get to know the users 

The best ideas for new digital products usually show up when we’re close to the problems they are about to solve. Or at least close to the people struggling with these issues. While building the product we have to stay near them, not only on the initial stage when we discover the need but through the whole development process and also after the release to make our app meeting the expectations constantly. It concerns any type of product whether it’s a mobile or web application, a simple solution for private purposes, or a complex system. 

This User-Centered approach is the key to increase the odds of achieving success on the market and reaching the hearts (and devices) of users. The basis of the concept assumes that there’re two kinds of products people will pay for:

  • the ones that ease the pain,  
  • the ones that give pleasure. 

In the healthcare area, it’s probably easier to follow the first way as, besides the prophylaxis, most of the solutions will be related to some particular ailments, treatments, or medical examinations. 

To solve the problem we need to know it inside out as well as the people whom it concerns. Otherwise, we will end up with the product that only 2% of the potential users who actually use it. Before the design and development process starts, the essential work we have to do is comprehensive research. It applies to all aspects of business and product areas. The goal is to answer questions such as: Is there a similar or even identical product on the market? How does mine stand out? What is its unique value proposition (UVP)? How will my product provide money - what’s the monetizing strategy? How do I plan to raise the funds for building it? What are the legal restrictions? and many more.

1-10-100 rule

Profound research can not only prepare a solid strategy but also save time and money on further works. According to 1:10:100 rule which finds the application also in creating digital products you can spend $1 on research or you’ll pay $10 to change design or $100 to change something in development. 

If you would like to explore the needs, issues, and business requirements even better and validate our ideas, the perfect space for doing it is the Product Design Workshop. 

Within the sessions, you can summarize the knowledge you’ve already gained and use the tools of a specific approach e.g. Desing Thinking or Desing Sprint to structure it, draw conclusions, and identify the shortages. 

The scoping session, full Product Design Workshops, or Design Sprint? Check which one of them is the best fit for your project!  

Conducted effectively by an experienced moderator the workshops can not only help to organize the knowledge but, in the end, shape the product and estimate the time and budget needed to build it. What’s more, if they involve external experts you can also gain new, fresh, valuable opinions and remarks which will support the validation of your ideas and assumptions. This might be a good training before a pitch deck as the participants from outside of the company ask the questions that might show up during the meeting with investors. 

Choose a type of digital healthcare product 

In the wake of diving into the problem and the target audience, there should appear a frame of the type of solution you’re about to build. There’s no one official categorization of digital healthcare products as there’re many ways of subdividing them due to the technology they leverage, the main purpose of their usage, or the users they are aimed at.

The landscape of this industry is wide and diversified but for the purpose of this article, we use the classification of Mercom Capital Group. 

Digital Health categories by VC funding

The company distinguishes 22 categories but given the information about the size of funding  we can focus on the top 10 scooping almost the whole pie:

  • Telemedicine which is the biggest and most popular segment in almost every health tech survey. It drives the healthcare’s switch to the remote mode by enabling to gain medical consultation online or on the phone.
  • Data Analytics harnessing huge amounts of data to make treatment and diagnosis more precise and customized and managing point of care. 
  • Clinical Decision Support providing physicians with advice based on multiple items of patient data and knowledge management.
  • Mobile Health (mHealth) containing a broad range of apps used within mobile devices.
  • Booking apps that make the appointments available in just few clicks. 
  • Wearable sensors used in IoT - the technology that widely spread through the whole digital healthcare market empowering to collect medical data almost anytime and anywhere. 
  • Practice Management Solutions boosting the effectiveness of administration in medical facilities in all areas and expedites the management processes.     
  • Remote monitoring supporting health condition control and informing about alarming symptoms. 
  • Wellness covering the need for maintaining everyday wellbeing through meditation, mental health, sleep monitoring, etc. apps
  • Medical Imaging taking the various radiological imaging techniques to the next level. 

The categorization showing the funds achieved by every segment may help you to evaluate the chances of arousing the investors’ interest but also it provides an overall picture of potential market competitors. In Mercom resources you can also find a comprehensive and more specific classification regarding the technologies used by particular digital healthcare solutions. And if you’re looking for information about the advancement of particular categories check this great graph prepared by Venture Scanner and their Health Technology Reports

Digital Health Innovation Quadrant

Source:  Venture Scanner 

Pick the core features 

The type of digital healthcare usually determines some range of features your solution should include. But picking the right ones is essential to not overwhelm users and run out of budget in the middle of development. That’s especially important when you’re building the MVP and you need to focus on the basic functionalities to validate your product with the first users.  

High time to read our comprehensive guide about MVP

In our experience, it’s prioritizing the features that keep startup founders awake at night. Abandoning some of them might be a huge challenge but limited budget and tight deadlines usually motivate enough to face it and bet on the ones that bring the biggest value for the users. If you came a long way through research, building a business plan, studying the industry’s landscape, and competition, it will be easier for you to understand that the mobile version of the system for a hospital might not be essential to test it within the medical staff using it on computers most of the time. 

What are the most common features of digital healthcare products? Here are some of the examples n a nutshell: 

  1. Real-time chat and video conferencing making communication between a doctor and patient remote, easier, and more available. 
  2. Payment gateway integration to enable simple and secure paying for medical services through the internet. 
  3. Dashboards which present the gathered data in an esthetic and easy to understand way.  
  4. Booking Features for simplifying the process of appointment arrangement and management.   
  5. Diagnosing support that can use machine learning to suggest the possible affliction based on symptoms provided by a patient.  
  6. Push Notifications finding the application in many different solutions like reminders of the next dose of medication, information about new services, or any changes in the app. 
  7. Wearable Devises Connection as IoT can bring a lot of valuable data that can enrich the features of your app. 

Harness the best technologies 

Today, there’s a whole plethora of technologies in every area of development whether it’s a backend, frontend, DevOps, or mobile field. Choosing the tech stack that will fit your project is always a matter of individual needs and requirements. 

There’s a lot to consider when picking the right tech solutions. Firstly you need to decide if you need a web or mobile application or maybe both of them even if not at once from the very beginning. That narrows down the choice of potential programming languages and frameworks available for building specific kinds of applications. But now things are getting tough. If you’ve got a detailed scope with specified features, the technologies should be selected in terms of translating them into reality. Secondly, the final tech stack depends on the time and budget limitations of your project. Some solutions are faster to develop while others are more complicated and require more work but might be the only ones to achieve the desired result. Another vital aspect of composing the best tech stack is scalability. Even if you’re completely focused on creating the first version of the product you need to consider solutions that will support a smooth and flawless growth and handle heavy loads in the future. 

Scalable web app

The next issue to consider is the size and complexity of the product. If it’s a small and uncomplicated app, then there’s no need to harness the emerging technologies or some niche solutions. Make the tech choice as simple as it’s possible to reach your goals. Lastly (actually it’s not all the aspects influencing tech stack choice, for more read our extensive guide about it) take into account the workforce availability as some languages are more popular among software developers than others. And even if it comes to the most popular ones, there’s still a problem with finding fine programmers as the whole industry suffers from a great talent shortage. 

Although the range of technologies is broad and the final choice should be fully customized we can distinguish some tech tips and picks typical for digital healthcare:

  • Choose Python if your product leverage Bit Data, machine learning, or AI. There are two main reasons why it is considered as the best language for that kind of project: its simplicity and a massive collection of data science libraries and frameworks based on Python.  
  • Your app requires some more sophisticated data visualizations? Go with good old JavaScript. Why? Because it supports the D3 library which combines powerful visualization components with data-driven DOM manipulation methods.
  • If you are looking for a way to build a mobile app faster and cheaper bet on Cross-platform development. This way developers can create only one codebase and share it across both Android and iOS. You save money and reduce Time to Market - a perfect set of benefits for every startup! 
  • Don’t forget about service integration. Make sure your app will be available for integrating with other solutions as the digital healthcare ecosystem is already rich and complex. The ability to connect with EMRs and EHRs is a complete must-have. 

Watch for the legal and security regulations

Health data are probably the most sensitive ones so no wonder there’re restrictions specifying the security requirements to keep them safe. One of the most well-known and mature act is HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Established in 1996 with the development of electronic health records and expansion of technologies in healthcare started to regulate also the requirements for software products. 

Dig deeper to learn more about HIPPA requirements for healthcare software. 

There are three criteria defining solutions that have to follow HIPAA regulations:

  • Entity - the security restrictions apply not only to the organizations that have direct access to the data but also their business partners that collect and process them. 
  • Data - there is a specific kind of information that requires protection and it is called PHI (Protected Healthcare Information). This particular data needs to combine two dimensions: personal and medical information. 
  • Technology - no matter if your within your own servers or in the cloud. They all should comply with HIPAA. 

Does your app meet them? If yes, then you have to make sure that it is HIPPA compliant. How can you do that? It’s a complex and multifaceted process. Here’s a brief checklist to sum up the requirements but while developing your product, read the rules profoundly.   

HIPPA checklist

Remember that HIPAA is not the only set of regulations that apply to digital healthcare products. In the design and development process, you should refer to other acts like GDPR, HITECH, and PIPEDA.

Starting the way to build your own digital healthcare product? Check how our designers and developers can help you to change your idea into a fully-fledged app! 

Navigate the changing IT landscape

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