Healthcare App Development: How to Build a Helpful Medical App

There is now a greater chance than ever for new apps to enter the mHealth market. Patients, doctors, and government officials are actively seeking digital solutions to make healthcare more flexible. If there’s an opportunity to eliminate hospital visits, they are likely to take it.

People can already fill out forms online, get lab results the moment they are ready, and perform many other actions related to their medical treatment via smartphones. There’s no going back and the only way forward is the further development and the improvement of mobile medical solutions.

However, there’s a flip side to this wide adoption of healthcare apps. As early as 2017, clinicians were using three or more apps at work. But among all of these apps, most fail to perform all the functions healthcare professionals require. There is a view that rapid digitation creates technological fatigue and may prevent medical apps from becoming real game-changers.

The industry needs new solutions but quality over quantity is key here. To make a helpful product in healthcare app development, first explore the market in full and focus on a certain area of health. Consult with medical experts and make sure the foundation of your app rests firmly on scientific research.

Let’s start by learning which apps are already out there and which features are in demand.

Healthcare Mobile Apps: Choosing the Right Type

It stands to reason that you need to define the type of application you want to make first. Are your target users patients or healthcare workers? Currently, there is double the amount of programs for patients because people are increasingly comfortable tracking their health digitally and are expressing a high interest in performing even more functions via their phones.

In any case, your solution should be user-centric. Anyone who deals with the app needs to have the functions they expect presented in a straightforward way. Since, in many situations, medical issues may expose people’s vulnerabilities, a healthcare app should be as helpful and clear as possible. Any negative element regarding design, as well as any irritating bugs, will ruin the experience.

Making a healthcare app for doctors

Applications for Doctors

Smartphone apps for healthcare professionals exist to facilitate their work processes, and, consequently, enhance patient outcomes. Programs made by health app developers can be divided into two categories. The first category is apps intended for use at work. These help the clinician make accurate prescriptions or secure phone calls. The second category serves the market for professional growth and skill and knowledge improvement.

If you’re interested in making a solution for doctors, explore the actual state of the market. There are already plenty of apps with strong community support. New applications need to offer something above and beyond what already exists.

Medical Reference

In 2008, Epocrates was the first medical app released for iPhones. The company launched in 1998 and created a strong community long before the creation of the app. In 2010, they reached 1 million users worldwide, including 40 per cent of American physicians.

Epocrates provides drug information, pill identification, and clinical guidelines. In the premium version, the app offers in-depth disease information, drug interaction checks, alternative medicine reviews, and many other features. Simply put, the app helps prescribe the right drugs at the proper dosage. Epocrates Plus costs $174.99 per year but there are discounts available for institutions and medical schools.

There are other medical reference apps including Medscape and Micromedex but it’s hard to outperform a leader that has been on the market for so long. If you want to make a similar product, you need to narrow your focus. To build a solution in this area, think about finding a specific location that doesn’t have a reference app approved by a community of clinicians, or develop an app which focuses on a particular disease. As for the features, consider adding a smart search, bookmarks, view history, and sharing options.

Networking

A few popular apps act as networking tools for doctors. Founded in 2011, Doximity facilitates physicians’ work and helps them keep up to date and find new career opportunities. The basis of the app is a newsfeed where doctors can discuss current news and technologies, share contacts, and search for jobs. Doximity also offers a dialer app so physicians can make calls without revealing their personal phone numbers.

Figure1 is among the most popular mobile apps for healthcare professionals. It helps clinicians expand their knowledge by presenting and discussing unusual clinical cases. The community of professionals using this app exceeded 2.5 million. UpToDate works in a similar manner, allowing medical workers to search for details about current clinical studies.

Healthcare Mobile Apps for Patients

Mobile apps cover a plethora of people’s health concerns but most are geared towards maintaining a healthy lifestyle, not managing medical care. The popularity of fitness and self-care solutions, which are much simpler in terms of development and compliance, sure beats the adoption of mHealth tools. But since the former category boosts interest in the latter one by making people more informed about their health, it’s only a matter of time before medical apps are commonplace for patients.

The MadAppGang team has worked on both fitness and healthcare apps. We made Secure My Health to track prescription schedules and SmartRun, which makes the most of running by working within defined heart-rate zones. During the development, we reworked the interface several times to ensure that it was clear and engaging, which should be the primary concern of any health-related app. Another priority is a reliable base in science, and we placed a strong focus on that too.

Patient-facing healthcare applications pursue four main goals:

  1. Connection to medical workers and facilities
  2. The management of medical records
  3. Predictive diagnosis
  4. The maintenance of chronic conditions

In our opinion, there are a couple of possibilities for mobile health app developers when it comes to making a new solution for patients: either focus on an untouched niche or holistically embrace healthcare needs. The latter option could be implemented in a particular country or region, for example.

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Сonnecting Patients and Doctors

Being able to communicate with a doctor via an app is one of the biggest desires patients express. They want to book appointments, share health data, and get prescriptions which don’t require an in-person examination just with a few clicks.

There are apps for searching for nearby medical facilities and doctors. Zocdoc is a popular example in this category. When making an app for your target region or for a specific institution, you’ll need to integrate accurate map services. We’ve previously described how to build a unique navigation app and many of those features are helpful in location-based healthcare apps. Calendar functionality for scheduling, smart textual search, and payment integration are among the other essential features to consider. Adding reviews so patients can share their experience is also a good idea.

Some apps connect patients to physicians directly, such as Doctor On Demand, which is designed so that users receive medical advice through video chat. To create something similar, you will need to add various messaging APIs. We reviewed the most popular communication providers in our article about Twilio.

Telemedicine, which launched to help patients from remote areas get professional assistance, can now serve anyone who doesn’t want to waste their time. An essential feature in any telehealth application is an audio-visual messaging agent, which should be perfectly secure. Apart from live video consultations, there has to be an opportunity to store and send medical records and other health data.

Until now, solutions which connect doctors and patients have utilised regular communication protocols, which are vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. To provide a securely encrypted communication system for such delicate matters as health data, MadAppGang developed StrongBox, a chatting app and an SDK based on the most possible secure protocol, Signal.

Managing Medical Records

The ability to have their medical history securely stored in one place and accessible on the go, makes patients more aware of their health and therefore able to get more informed treatment. While the interest in accessible health data increases, the way information is presented is far from desirable. Most interfaces are hard for users to navigate and records, such as test results, are not presented in layperson terms.

Medical history apps should provide quick access to information about which vaccinations patients have had, which prescriptions they are currently taking, when they last visited the doctor, which tests they need, and so on.

MyChart developed by Epic is among the best healthcare apps for patients. It is a functional redesign of a patient portal. In Australia, the government invested in a massive data management project called My Health Record. It isn’t a perfect system at the moment, but it does solve some pain points and continues to improve.

To make such an app, you need to learn about the regulatory aspects of medical data. Complying to laws and ensuring privacy are at the very basics of solutions for managing health records. Remarkable programs are being made, even for developing countries, such as DHIS2.

Making a healthcare app for patients

Self-Diagnosis

Symptom checkers and predictive diagnosis tools are promising areas for healthcare applications. When it’s not a very complex issue, patients can get their diagnosis rapidly without having to consult a doctor. Or, based on the evaluation, they are prompted to visit a doctor as soon as possible. IMB’s Watson supercomputer already learnt to make diagnoses back in 2011, but it’s hard to make the service commonly available because of regulations and the long testing process required.

There are popular apps for personal healthcare like Symptomate, which has over 3 million users. It implements innovative technologies including a voice assistant and a smart chatbot which interviews patients to get an accurate evaluation. Symptomate AI gathers data and learns from scientific publications, doctors’ experience, and statistics. There are also some programs designed to check for specific conditions such as the Colour Blind Test. ResearchKit and CareKit, developed by Apple, are open-source libraries which medical researchers and hospitals can use for free.

Looking up symptoms online is popular yet potentially overwhelming, plus, much of the information is often a far cry from the truth. The level of the falsehoods arising from health-related web results has given rise to numerous memes and so-called webchondria.

Instead of googling symptoms and shifting through the chaff, people should trust scientifically approved applications. If you’re going to make such a solution, attracting the brightest minds in medicine and AI technologies will garner the best results.

Tracking Chronic Conditions

More than 40 per cent of Americans struggle from chronic diseases, and a surprising 50 per cent of Australians live with a chronic condition. There’s a vast amount of people all over the world who could benefit from applications which track their health.

The most in-demand sector here is diabetes apps. There are plenty of solutions which provide treatment and medication regimens, set reminders and increase patient awareness on the topic. Applications for dealing with cancer are also experiencing a rise. For example, Cancer.Net helps people make appointments with healthcare workers and get updates about living with cancer. Users can search for information in the app, log their medications, track and analyse side effects, and so on.

Priority Features in Healthcare Application Development

The cost of developing a health app will vary depending on how many features you want to include. Regardless of what type of application you choose to make, there are some essentials which make for a great product.

Balancing Science and Fun in Mobile Health App Development

Health is the real deal and the accuracy of the information is of literally vital importance. Engaging industry professionals to help craft the app is a proven practice. Discover the top influencers in the sphere you want to work in and consult with them.

If you want to make a drug search application, for example, contact a licensed pharmacist. Or, if you want to create a health measurement app focused on heart conditions, find an experienced cardiologist who is eager to participate in the health app development.

Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, a healthcare app shouldn't have a complicated look and feel. It has to be engaging and fun for users. Since most medical issues and doctor’s appointments are accompanied by stress, the interface should be positive and supportive. The app’s functional capabilities should be tested by users on different devices, including those with poor connectivity, and against load to make sure patients will get what they expect in any situation.

Making Context-Aware Systems

Like any other field, medical app development demands AI-based solutions. Many of them exist to serve diagnostic purposes or treatment planning. For example, the symptom assessment app Ada features a smart system which learns from user’ answers. It reached over 6 million users and won numerous awards, showing that context-aware technologies are among the most important trends in healthcare mobile apps .

Applications which continuously collect health information and analyse it make for efficient early stage prediction tools. Many health problems identified in the early stages are remediable, which makes quick and accurate symptom detection one of the industry’s key priorities.

Features of a medical app

Addressing Sensitive Data Protection

Building a healthcare app requires much more than just getting to know your user. You need to do some research regarding the scientific basis of the functions your app will enable. Moreover, you have to learn about the privacy laws in your target regions. Health data protection rules vary greatly from one country to another.

Since a healthcare app contains sensitive patient information, it should adopt the latest encryption practices and conduct regular penetration testing and vulnerability assessments. An app login via social media isn't appropriate for healthcare and medical apps. The system has to provide a unique identifier with biometric data, for example. To prevent third parties gaining access, there should also be an automatic logout feature. Push notifications need to be designed carefully so that sensitive data doesn't appear on the screen.

Integration with Wearables

The opportunity to share health data from fitness trackers and health-monitoring apps with doctors when needed seems useful in theory, but how does it work in practice? Medical professionals claim there is an information-sharing gap between self-tracking systems and actual healthcare.

Data gathered with the help of wearables isn't applicable, and physicians don’t have enough context to interpret it fairly. They might be afraid of becoming legally responsible for the devices, which may make errors.

There are medical wearable sensors which offer a higher level of trust. Here are some recent solutions: Imec developed a device which measures stress levels, Valencell made a hearing aid sensor, and Proteus Discover created a patch which gathers and sends general health data.

As we can see, wearables should probably be developed along with mobile healthcare applications as they have direct access to the human body and can bring efficient results, even if the technology and the medical profession aren’t quite seeing eye to eye, this is liable to change in the future.

If you have an app idea that might transform healthcare services and you need an experienced team by your side, reach out to us to discuss the development process.