Healthcare apps are often perceived as point-of-care solutions to extend care beyond clinical settings. Suppose you experience fire-in-your-chest kind of heartburn in the middle of the night and there’s no one to take you to the nearest clinic. It’s when your mHealth app could come to your rescue. You can easily fix up a video conference with a doctor who may be miles away from you, or you can doctor the discomfort yourself.
It is predicted that by the end of 2017, more than 50% of smartphone users will have downloaded healthcare apps. Despite the growing popularity of mHealth apps, users are disillusioned with the functionality and usability, which prompts them to uninstall them within a few days of its installation. The problem is often associated with critical loopholes in the app that go unnoticed during the development process. Such a scenario necessitates the need to raise the following questions before building a healthcare app:
• Will the app address patients’ needs and concerns?
• Will it have security measures to keep sensitive data safe?
• Can the app provide a smooth-sailing user experience?
Addressing those loopholes can not only increase app acceptance and usage but also improve trust of patients and bring in economic benefit to an organization. Here are some of the common missteps made while building healthcare apps.
1. Security Holes
The glut of health data produced daily is prone to data breach especially when it fails to comply with HIPAA regulations. The National Healthcare Anti-Fraud Association states that the healthcare swindles roughly amount to about $68 billion annually. Fraudsters impinge on patients’ data to make false claims from insurance companies, jeopardizing health care and legitimate claims handling. Apps should be designed in such a way that the medical practitioner, payer, and stakeholders such as billers insurance agents are swaddled in a tight framework of HIPAA or other regulatory agencies to prevent disclosure of sensitive patient data.
It is the duty of healthcare organizations to respect privacy, tighten security, and safeguard trust of its encryption. Building forts of security posture such as restricted access to apps and biometric access control systems could secure patient data against theft.
The lack of security in health care apps as opposed to banking and retail industry can be partly attributed to the former being more of a service activity that is subject to less rigorous scrutiny. As cyber attacks are catching more and more online customers off the guard, banks have armed up against cyber threats through secure data transmission and advanced cryptography. Reinforcing security norms by taking cues from the banking and retail industry can go a long way in building users’ trust and strengthening the customer base.
2. Usability Issues
Before an app developer ventures into an app baking process, it is imperative to consider ergonomics in app design to ensure better customer experience. The compositional balance of visual elements should be well judged so that even the buttons used in an app are not too close or hard to invoke.
Anand Jayakumar has been involved in the development of numerous healthcare apps for QBurst clients. According to him, designing with patients in mind will not only boost app engagement but also help organizations reach full continuum of care.
Medical images need high-resolution device screens so as to display minute details. This is particularly important as the brightness of a particular pixel translates to Hounsfield encoded units that eventually determine dosage of medicines and radiation therapy in future course of treatment. View ports should be adjusted properly so that scan reports and test results can be easily deciphered, making prognosis easier for physicians.
Many a time, the heavy lifting job of testing is left to users. In a survey conducted among 900 participants, 45% of the respondents opined that device compatibility was an issue. Issues such as these can be easily rooted out within a device lab before the app goes live. The automated environment has the added advantage of employing minimal resources and promising higher consistency. Organizations need to be farsighted in building environment-aware apps that can break through connectivity barriers and signal jamming issues so that the apps can work unaffected anywhere, anytime.
3. Lack of Expert Involvement
In most cases, clinicians are counted out of the app development process. Doctors are often unable to clearly articulate ideas to a coder, and so are the developers who try to bounce off the rationale behind the integration of a functionality of the medical practitioners, making the twosome gruesome. This calls for the involvement of domain experts who can straddle the line between a developer and a practitioner.
Most coders integrate medical information from secondary sources that can be dangerously misleading. Infact, most of the apps in the market are blamed for giving misinformation about the etiology of a disease and the treatment procedures. For instance, an app that miscalculates a diabetic patient’s blood glucose level could lead to insulin overdose and subsequently diabetic shock that could cause death. Some of the apps even purport to function as therapeutic devices like an iPhone app that emits light to treat acne, apps that emit sound waves to cure headaches, and so on.
It is at this juncture that FDA has stepped in to stop the entry of such dangerous apps. About hundreds of them have been purged from the market. As a preemptive measure, concerned stakeholders should see to it that their apps fall within the regulatory framework of FDA or accreditation systems like CE marking.
Stimulate Success in Your mHealth Apps
There is widespread notion that if an app is good, end users will accept it with good grace. It’s not true always. For an app to be successful, it needs to resonate with the end users and offer genuine help to patients. It is also expected to provide context-sensitive help to a person who gets stuck while using it.
“If you think about how healthcare is delivered, it’s on an ad hoc basis. Someone comes into a hospital, someone comes into a pharmacy, someone comes to a doctor. But beyond those touchpoints, the patients are on their own. There’s no real continuity of care.”, says Christopher A. Viehbacher, CEO of Sanofi. True that. For this reason, stakeholders need to collaborate with patients to understand the issues they face along the usability way and co-design solutions that embrace customer satisfaction. In this manner, mHealth apps can contribute towards more productive and sustainable health management.