Over the last few years, we’ve witnessed a rapid growth in the healthcare landscape. General digitalization has made it possible to replace traditional medical services with those relying on modern technologies. Mobile health, or mHealth for short, constitutes a huge part of this dynamic sector, and there are several reasons for that.
First of all, the market is driven by the increasing preference of mobile apps over web apps, as well as significant investments in the digital health industry, including governmental support. People are becoming increasingly conscious about their health and are willing to take the necessary steps in their daily routines to take better care of themselves. Substantial advancements have also been made in the realm of emerging technologies, such as IoT. This, as a result, has given rise to using wearables as a means of monitoring health.
The present-day mHealth apps landscape
mHealth apps have become one of the key elements of MedTech innovation in general - the mHealth market is forecasted to reach $289.4 billion by 2025. Mobile healthcare apps have been adopted by both medical professionals and their patients. What’s more, consumer demand is ever rising, which is especially visible during the pandemics. Rising awareness regarding health, wellness, and nutrition contributes to positive forecasts for the future of mHealth.
Currently, there are more than 318,000 health apps available on the market, and this number is likely to grow in the following months. The majority of them are focused on wellness issues, but the number of apps targeted at health conditions has also grown significantly. Among the numerous types mHealth platforms, we can distinguish four main categories based on their purpose:
- Information apps: they provide patients with general information about different health conditions and their symptoms. They are often used by medical students or healthcare professionals as a primary source of knowledge.
- Diagnostic apps: their focus is on exchanging information between patients and doctors to help them come up with a diagnosis and suggest next steps in the treatment process. These apps allow patients to schedule an appointment (offline or via telemedicine tools), receive advice, e-prescription, and real-time reports. The diagnosis may be based on the information provided by the patient, as well as visual materials, such as pictures or videos (using image recognition and Machine Learning).
- Control apps: these are probably the most popular kind of medical apps. They allow users to monitor their health conditions, daily habits, and fitness activities by providing them with reminders, statistics, or interactive dashboards. They are used for different purposes, such as sickness prevention, parameter observation over a specific period of time (for example, for patients with chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular diseases, asthma, diabetes, and cancer), or medical supervision (remote patient monitoring).
- Adapter apps: thanks to sensors, IoT, and wearables, these apps transform smartphones into advanced medical devices measuring vital parameters and preparing complex healthcare reports.
Of course, there are many subcategories or applications that don’t fall into any category at all. We could also take another starting point and divide the apps based on their target audience. This way, we would come up with a list of apps dedicated to women (for example, regarding pregnancy or sexual health), children, people with mental disorders, fitness freaks, patients with chronic diseases, or those seeking primary care – the list is endless.
What are the benefits of mHealth apps?
There’s a reason mHealth apps have become so widespread. They’re beneficial to both healthcare professionals and their patients. Among the numerous advantages, we can distinguish:
- Convenience and accessibility 24/7: transparency and flexibility of mobile solutions contribute to seamless user experience. Using portable devices, patients are able to benefit from healthcare services anywhere, anytime.
- Higher productivity for doctors: thanks to smooth communication with patients and easy access to information, healthcare providers can quicken the decision-making process and provide their patients with better diagnostic accuracy, thus improving the treatment outcomes.
- Paperless documentation: mHealth apps enable both patients and doctors to avoid bureaucracy and keep the medical documentation less messy and more eco-friendly.
- Improved communication: thanks to live chats, videoconferences, and the possibility to include pictures and videos in the conversation, explaining your condition online becomes a piece of cake.
- Saving time and costs: patients have a possibility to receive treatment without commuting to a clinic and waiting in lines.
- Easy health tracking: staying up to date with our health state and making regular check-ins via smartphones have never been easier.
Due to their eminent benefits, customer demand for mHealth apps has drastically risen. However, building a successful healthcare software requires a lot of effort. One needs to take into account numerous factors and follow the best practices to stay in the game. What are they, exactly? Read on to find out!
Design seamless UX and nondisruptive UI
Flawless user experience is a key success factor of every digital product, no matter its purpose and vertical. The reasons? People are simply reluctant to use unintuitive tools. However, certain software types incorporate even more advanced UX and UI practices because of their target audience.
mHealth applications belong to this group because they are likely to be downloaded by individuals with disabilities, including visual impairment, dyslexia, or movement disorders. Such a unique target audience requires out-of-the-box solutions. That’s why the creators of mHealth apps emphasize the importance of interface elements, such as color scheme, brightness, and placement of icons. There is no room for random choices. Another crucial aspect is the whole user flow, which should contain only a few steps leading to a particular action. This way, the journey is smooth and users can easily discover every functionality.
A big challenge for every person developing an mHealth app is the amount and complexity of the processed data. It needs to be presented in a way that is easy to comprehend by all users, including those with disabilities. Therefore, minimalism becomes a go-to approach when building digital healthcare products. The design involves simple shapes, intuitive visual elements (for example icons or tables), as well as a limited color scheme with a light background.
Another common method of enhancing medical information’s readability is using plain language, which transforms complex terminology into an easy-to-digest vocabulary. As a result, every user can understand the diagnosis and doctor’s guidelines, gaining more control over their health state. This way, an app employing plain language becomes transparent and user-friendly, convincing the patients to use it regularly.
Ensure mHealth apps’ interoperability with IoT devices
The significant development of wearable technologies has given added value to healthcare. Smartphones, smartwatches, wristbands for fitness tracking, AR headsets, or even clothes interacting with different devices – possibilities are endless.
Sensor technology has turned everyday objects into diagnostic tools, making it possible for mHealth apps to address different medical issues and help with prevention, diagnostics, treatment, or monitoring. It also turns out useful in telemedicine solutions - patients can undergo remote examinations and receive a diagnosis without meeting the doctor in person.
All in all, wearable technology takes healthcare to a whole new level, and many mHealth app creators take advantage of it to improve the quality of their services. Wearables collect relevant data anytime and everywhere, enabling both medical professionals and their patients to receive a quick notice in case of abnormalities. This technology is incredibly helpful in control apps. Thanks to sensors, users can measure different parameters (including temperature, sugar level, or heart rate), as well as track their sleep patterns and sports performance (which is widely used in wellness and fitness applications). All those activities are possible thanks to an integration with different devices belonging to patients and medical hardware used in hospitals or clinics.
Transferring data from a wearable device to an mHealth app is done in the most effective way via APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) or SDKs (Software Development Kits). Unsurprisingly, smooth integration becomes a key success factor here. It’s been noticed by tech giants, such as Google with their Google Fit REST API. There are also companies whose core business circles around wearables and releasing APIs, for example, Fitbit.
Streamline communication and facilitate health-related discussions
Effective exchange of information constitutes a basis for an accurate diagnosis and treatment, which is why digital solutions enabling smooth communication between doctors and patients contribute a lot to mHealth apps’ success. The popularity of remote healthcare services has drastically increased in recent months due to the global pandemic. Regulation-compliant modern tools have been enabling patients to consult healthcare professionals and receive an accurate diagnosis in the comfort of their own homes.
The use of telecommunications technology in order to provide medical services, also known as telemedicine, has revolutionized the way people connect with their doctors. It may take many forms, although there are three main categories to consider:
- Real-time telemedicine: patients attend a virtual appointment with a healthcare professional through a video conference, a phone call, or online chat functionality. These solutions are widely used for primary care and general assessments, as well as different types of behavioral therapy, as they don’t require advanced medical equipment.
- Asynchronous telemedicine: the consultation doesn’t involve personal interaction. A patient shares their photos, scans, recordings, lab reports, and test results with the doctor who can then give a diagnosis based on a more “tangible” material. It works well for professionals with a narrow specialty (for example, a cardiologist or an endocrinologist).
- Remote patient monitoring: it is used mainly by people with chronic illnesses or those recovering from serious accidents. It allows doctors to regularly check vital parameters of their patients and react in case of irregularities.
Effective communication is important not only on a doctor-patient level. Many mHealth apps include social features, allowing users to exchange information within communities. Using them, patients can share experiences and support one another in difficult times. Healthcare professionals, on the other hand, can safely discuss challenging cases. Siilo, a secure medical messaging app, is a great example of software helping doctors communicate and, as a result, greatly improve patient care. If you care about smooth communication between hundreds of users, why not follow this example and enrich your mHealth app with a social feature as well?
The quality of health services and communication has also improved thanks to AI tools, such as chatbots. Instead of carrying their own research and relying on Google results, patients can reach out to a virtual assistant and ask for guidance. Chatbots can take some weight off the doctors’ shoulders, deal with simple medical inquiries, answer FAQs, check symptoms, or manage appointments. Sometimes, they are also used for emotional support, as in Youper – a mobile application dedicated to people suffering from mental health illnesses. This AI-driven solution empowers users to take better care of themselves and provides them with quality conversations. Sounds useful and educational, doesn’t it?
Drive cross-platform availability of mHealth apps
mHealth applications bring many benefits to the table, but at the end of the day, it boils down to one word: convenience. People tend to take their mobile phones wherever they go, which means they can access medical services anytime they want. The comfort, as well as the market reach, may be increased even more if an mHealth app is suitable for different kinds of devices and operating systems.
This is where cross-platform development comes into play. It enables developers to create an app running on numerous platforms (such as iOS, Android, or Windows) with just one codebase without compromising the software’s quality and security. Currently, the most popular cross-platform frameworks are React Native, Flutter, and Xamarin. Whether you need to have a consultation on the go, via a mobile device, or you want to just sit comfortably in front of a laptop and discuss your pain points with a doctor, cross-platform apps give you the choice.
Expedite appointment management
Scheduling appointments with medical professionals constitutes one of the most popular features included in mHealth applications. Appointment reminders and alerts ensure that the meeting takes place and everyone is prepared for it. As a result, planning appointments and managing calendars become much easier and more intuitive. Appointments may take different forms, such as a videoconference or a chat (with uploading images or records), depending on the needs and preferences. On the market, we can find applications dedicated strictly to scheduling appointments with healthcare professionals, as well as bigger, more comprehensive Practice Management Systems (PMSs) integrated with EMR and EHRs which include this particular functionality, among many others.
An example of an all-in-one practice management solution is PracticeSuite. This California-based company has created a robust software, where scheduling appointments is integrated with a patient management system and secure payment services, being another vital element of a successful mHealth app.
Implementing a payment gateway, such as Stripe or Paypal, into the app makes the financial transactions easy, fast, and safe. What’s more, it provides patients with a truly inclusive healthcare experience, enabling them to handle everything from one place. In-app payments allow users to transfer money for appointments, as well as for additional services (e.g. tests or scans) that aren’t covered by their insurance policy. In some cases, it is also possible to set reminders or automated payments if medical consultations happen at regular intervals.
Finally, an essential part of appointments with a doctor is getting a prescription. Since those meetings take place online, electronic prescriptions have become a natural substitute for traditional ones. E-prescribing allows time-efficient communication between doctors and pharmacies and significantly minimizes the paperwork. iPrescribe by DrFirst is one of the most notable examples of e-prescription software. It provides doctors with simple user flow, as well as quick access to patients’ medical history. The app uses cloud solutions and advanced encryption mechanisms to ensure the highest security of sensitive data. It can also be easily integrated with an Electronic Health Record.
As you can see, furnishing your mHealth application with one or more of the functionalities mentioned above will make an online visit more than comfortable – and surely much more convenient than a real-live visit to a clinic.
Take care of privacy, security, and regulatory compliance
Similarly to FinTech software, the success of mHealth applications is strongly dependent on compliance with laws and regulations regarding sensitive data protection. Because digital healthcare products process vast amounts of personal information, it is crucial to undertake necessary measures and introduce a number of protection mechanisms ensuring the comfort and safety of the users. As there is no room for errors when people’s safety is at stake, mHealth app creators act both on a technical and legal level.
From a technical standpoint, several good practices can be incorporated to provide users with the highest level of protection. One of them is using the End-to-end encryption (E2EE) method, preventing third parties from accessing the sensitive data while it’s transferred between different systems or devices. In short, only the users actually involved in communication can obtain information. Another common procedure is implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) to create an additional layer of protection. This way, users can only access their account after delivering at least two pieces of personal information, which minimizes the risk of breaches and data leaks.
When it comes to legal aspects that need to be taken into account, it boils down mainly to being compliant with regulations and directives in force in particular regions of the world. Depending on the geographical location and targeted markets, healthcare providers follow different sets of rules. For the United States, it’s The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), for Canada – Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), and the inhabitants of European Union countries need to comply with GDPR guidelines.
It is also worth noting that there are ISO standards for medical devices that are applied globally. All those regulations may differ from one another, but their ultimate goal stays the same, namely protecting sensitive data.
Long mHealth story short
Due to the current global situation and the significant advancement of mobile technologies, the mHealth market is set for a bright future. Modern healthcare apps seem to be a perfect response to the rising demand for convenient and accessible medical services. However, creating successful mHealth software is not an easy task and requires certain ingredients. Keeping in mind the above list of good practices will allow you to get on the right track and provide your users with top healthcare experience.
You’re in the process of building your own healthcare software? Feel free to drop us a line to see how our developers and designers can support you in this adventure.