How to develop a successful medical/health application

The functionalities and variations of medical applications (apps) are developing at a rapid pace. An iPod can now convert to a heart monitor or an Android phone can act as an electronic stethoscope by connecting to an external sensor. In relation to this, we saw a fundamental development on July 21, 2011 with the draft guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The guidelines suggest three types of apps should require the FDA’s approval: a mobile app that acts as an accessory to a regulated medical device, turns a mobile gadget into such a device or makes suggestions regarding a patient’s diagnosis or treatment. Previously, there has been very little guidance for digital health tools and this could be indicative of digital codes of practice set to emerge in Australia. This is definitely something to bear in mind when considering developing a medical/health app.

medical app

Why your app must be useful to others

It is important to know the users you are serving and/or targeting. When thinking about building an app, you need to validate your assumptions of the perceived value that the app will bring and also do your research! An app can give your business/brand(s) a competitive advantage, but importantly, you must determine its core purposes.

There are many things to consider – for example button size. Will the users predominately be male or female? If the users are men, then they will have bigger hands and the app buttons will need to reflect this in size. Will the users have good eye sight? You may need to incorporate a functionality that enlarges text.

The app development stages

Below are the key stages to consider when developing an app:

1)      The initial concept. Start with the idea and what features the app will include. This is when you map out the timeline and scope out the budget. You need to define your purpose and it is important to be clear about the ultimate use, benefit and functionality. The app functionality needs to be user friendly – it is important to ensure that features are discoverable and not hidden and it helps if the app has the ‘wow’ factor in order to engage the user.

2)      Design. Investing time in the visual design is crucial. Design is a key element to help the app stand out from others on the market and it also impacts on usability and sense of value. High quality visuals influence users’ perceptions that the app is worthwhile and going to provide a benefit. Excellent design also reinforces the business/brand(s).

3)      Development.  Key elements include building a framework, expanding the features, designing the user interface, coding the functionality of the features, and all other creative and technical components of the app. 

4)      Testing. You should look to solicit feedback from a pilot to ensure the launch of the app runs smoothly. Feedback is necessary in the development cycle and usability is critical to the success of an app. You need to think about the processes and factor in suitability testing. There is the expectation amongst users that apps will be immediately intuitive, therefore in-field testing amongst the target demographic will provide valuable insights into the appropriate build for the app. If things go wrong with the functionality, then naturally users will question the usability and rationale of the app.

5)       Release and maintenance. It is important to be mindful of marketplace guidelines to aid market acceptance for your app. Apple, for example, reviews every app featured on the App Store based on a set of technical, content, and design criteria. The Apple review criteria are available in the App Store Review Guidelines.

Other considerations

Be aware of hidden costs. Costs to consider in addition to the app build may, for example, include user experience, testing and online marketing.

Organisational engagement. You need to take the business and/or brand teams on the journey when developing an app. Get all departments on board, so they can take ownership of the app when it launches.  Everyone in the organisation should know who you’re creating the app for, what you are creating and why.

The ultimate measure of success for your app will be determined by downloads, feedback and the user response, which may translate via testimonials.

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