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As of 2019, nearly one in three Americans said that they have tracked their health statistics in an app, according to a Gallup Poll. With more and more health technology adoption, that number will likely rise in the coming years, making it an ideal time for mobile health app development.
But you need to know exactly who you’re developing the app for, says Sebastian Seiguer, CEO of emocha Health mobile health app, which aims to improve medication adherence for patients with infectious and chronic conditions. “It’s critical to know the target audience when designing a mobile health app because health is so personal, and therefore, the user needs are going to be very different,” he says.
For example, if the app is specifically created for people who have a particular chronic disease, the mobile health app development team must understand everyday life with that disease, says Seiguer.
Aside from condition-specific concerns, healthcare app developers should also be mindful of the demographics and tech savviness of the people who will be using the app:
Each of these app audiences will have different needs and respond to different types of design styles and features.
Making sure that actual users get to test and try the app while it’s being developed can help you root out any potential stumbling blocks early on. That’s why Seiguer says his development team follows an iterative approach, in which it continually looks for feedback from its customers, both patients and care team members. Using focus groups and interviews, they are able to continually adjust the product so that it best accommodates the customer’s needs and preferences.
“Understanding the why behind the process is the single most important question you can ask with respect to developing a mission-driven app,” says Seiguer. It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting an app to do everything, or trying to make it appeal to everyone involved. But that can cause the app to become unwieldy. “Failure to understand this can serve as the greatest oversight an engineer makes,” says Seiguer.
“It’s important to remember that when an app is being designed, various stakeholders have different ideas – but when you go back to the problem, the development team can focus on discrete, specific features,” he adds.
So start by thinking about what the typical user might want to accomplish with this app – whether it’s remembering to take their medication, monitoring a specific health metric, or consulting with a healthcare professionally remotely – and then build features and enhancements around that main problem in order to make their experience seamless.
Apps almost always start off one way and then get updated to accommodate changing user needs or improve in some way. Developers can certainly think ahead to what version two or version 10 of the app may look like, but new features should be rolled out strategically. Users appreciate when additional bells and whistles appear, but they also tend to be averse to major changes happening all at once.
In addition, it’s also important to consider issues like privacy, HIPAA rules, and other legal issues in a heavily regulated field such as healthcare. Having people who are well informed and up-to-date on regulations is a must when thinking about the future of your healthcare app.
Another consideration is if you will eventually plan to offer different levels of service on the app, such as a paid premium version. This is one way that many successful apps are able to grow and scale.
Finally, keeping up with technology is always going to be a must. Thinking about if and how your app may integrate with other software or devices is important. For instance, do you want your app to work on a smartwatch or digital home assistant? Can data sync within another app that’s related to yours?
“We rely on testing at many phases of the development cycle with both manual and automated testing,” says Seiguer. Once they can confirm that a feature works, a Quality Assurance team will put the app through functional and regression testing.
“Functional tests are used to test the new feature, while regression testing confirms that another part of the application isn’t adversely affected,” explains Seiguer. “Each step in testing acts as another safety layer in preventing bugs in our product.”
“There are still multiple barriers that must be overcome for the apps to live up to their full potential”, states Susy Sslo-Wendt, Telehealth Specialist. “The lack of evidence-based literature, regulatory oversight and safety/privacy concerns need to be addressed to realize the full potential in the future”.
When designed and developed well, mobile apps can actually increase accessibility to healthcare. However, if your target audience is older or might be dealing with illness or disease, it’s important that the user experience be built with their abilities in mind.
In general, simple, intuitive navigation and menus that have clear instructions and effective prompts is important. But there are also other accessibility questions to consider: Is it easy to set up the app? Is the icon and button design and font size appropriate for people who might be visually impaired, and can the app be viewed horizontally? Is the language written so that the end user will understand what to do? Does video and audio content have captions for deaf users?
OnlineDoctor.com interviewed this expert for article guidance:
Sebastian Seiguer, CEO of emocha Health mobile health app