Secret Behind Exponential Growth of mHealth Apps

Mobile health has emerged as a powerful tool for healthcare practices across the globe that are trying to keep pace with the penetration of mobile apps in all other major niches. Widely known as mHealth, this technology brought a revolution in the healthcare industry; the first of its kind. 

Source: Experfy

According to a recent research by CISCO, smartphones are becoming the most used means to generate traffic which can be effectively leveraged by healthcare, as can be observed in the graph above.

This has also led to an increase in the use of health-related apps and health-monitoring wearables. 

Today, there are approximately 318,000 mHealth apps available in major app stores, according to the latest data available. In a mere span of 2-3 years, the number of health apps across Android and iOS stores have almost doubled up; paving the way for better, cheaper, and faster medical care.

In this article, we discuss:

  1. What led to the surge of mHealth apps.
  2. Different types of mHealth apps available today.
  3. mHealth apps for patients and general public.
  4. mHealth apps for healthcare providers.
  5. Leadership key to mHealth success.
  6. Crucial considerations for designing an mHealth app.
  7. What the future holds.

What Led To The Surge?

The use of smartphones will soon be ubiquitous in clinical environments. This technology offers the potential to improve clinical communications, enhance learning, and improve patient care”.  – Fernando A. Angarita, MD.

Increased Convenience

In contrast with EHR initiatives, which are frequently met with resistance by clinicians because of the workflow disruptions they can create, mHealth initiatives are often spearheaded by physicians because of the convenience they get along.

Healthcare providers want to communicate with their staff and patients, and access health data without being tethered to their office. mHealth apps give them just that. This freedom enables them to be more productive while providing better care to their patients.

Prevailing Mobility amongst Healthcare Providers

Recent data conveys just how pervasive mobility has become among healthcare providers. One survey by the National Center for Biotechnology Information of medical school faculty, students and residents shows that 85% of respondents use mobile devices in a wide variety of clinical settings ranging from classrooms to hospitals. This is only expected to expand further.

It’s also commendable that mHealth adoption doesn’t end with the clinician — providers are involving patients as well. 

Patient Empowerment

Creating the desirable patient experience greatly depends on making these processes simpler and to quickly get patients what they need. Therefore, more and more healthcare providers today are giving patients access to their health information through mHealth apps. 

mHealth isn’t only a means to decrease the cost of care delivery and increase operational efficiencies, the primary benefit of mHealth happens to be improved care quality and patient engagement in their own health

Different Types Of mHealth Apps In The Market Today

According to a 2017 survey by Research2Guidance, the most popular use case for mHealth apps, of which 30% of the market provide services for, is “Connection to doctors”, followed by “Diabetes”, “Heart, circulation, blood” and “Medication”.

The majority of mHealth apps are usually wellness related. However, apps that fall under other categories of healthcare are catching up speed fast. 

Source: Liquid State

The different types of mHealth apps available in the market today can be broadly classified into:

Apps for Patients & the General Public

1. Telehealth & Telemedicine

Mobile telemedicine services have now become feasible through mHealth apps that come with video integration.  A custom built telemedicine platform for your practice is a cost-effective solution for the delivery of healthcare to patients with limited access or geographical restrictions. 

For instance, remotely located or resource-limited patients may profit from access to specialist care through this technology. Telemedicine mHealth apps can also benefit patients that require frequent monitoring or follow-up care, such as post-operative care or rehabilitation of patients.

2. Chronic Disease Management

A number of mHealth apps today are helping patients with the tracking and reporting symptoms of chronic diseases. These types of mHealth apps improve the continuity of care between providers and patients, further promoting adherence to suggested care plans and enhancing communication. 

App users receive medication information, disease education, task notifications, and track their health to better manage their condition. These apps also keep patients in constant touch with their healthcare providers who can coach them with the best practices of preventive healthcare. 

These types of apps have been found to work across multiple chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

3. Patient Education & Engagement

mHealth apps falling under this category are used to educate, engage, and empower patients by acknowledging the role they play in their own health. Patient engagement apps can embed appointment booking, diary tracking, customized patient portals, medication reminders, and present educational medical content (from prevention right to treatment).

Mobile health education technologies present a promising mechanism for improving treatment, prevention, and follow-up alike. According to one recent study, engaging patients in their care can result in healthier lifestyles, fewer readmissions, and better patient outcomes – all of which are cost-saving factors.

Apps for Healthcare Providers

1. Disease Diagnosis

Disease diagnosis mHealth apps are specially designed to access diagnosis and treatment information in just a few steps on a mobile device. With these apps, digital versions of print medical references for disease diagnosis can be available readily with a search toolbar to help improve the regulation of diagnosis. These apps can also aid clinicians prescribe suitable lab tests based on symptoms, therefore reducing the cost of care by decreasing the number of avoidable tests.

2. Drug Reference

These apps usually include the names of drugs, their dosages, indications, drug-drug interactions, pharmacology, cost, contraindications and their identifying features. Drug reference apps can be readily available and highly useful evidence-based resources at the very point of care, for instance, during hospital rounds.

3. Clinical Communication

mHealth apps are successfully being leveraged to enhance communication among clinicians within a healthcare setting. This includes video conferencing, voice calling, email messaging and  text messaging. The use of this type of mHealth apps in a clinical care setting facilitates speedy communication of vital information and can help flatten the risk of medical errors.

4. Medical Calculators

A clinical or medical calculator app can be used to compute several clinical indices and scores such as body surface area, body mass index, individual drug dosing, coronary heart disease risk, etc. These procedures otherwise generally demand complex formulas using different input parameters. As such, an mHealth app offers an efficient and convenient means to calculate a clinical score or index.

5. Medical Teaching & Education

Medical professionals in training can easily utilize innovative apps to ameliorate their learning. The mobility of an mHealth app can grant students convenient access to an abundance of clinical resources. 

Digital versions of journals, medical books, interactive anatomy tools, medical references, medical calculators, and drug references on a mobile app issue accommodating learning opportunities for students. For example, an mHealth app for trainee doctors can provide a plethora of information at the point of care when attending physicians aren’t around, thus optimizing patient care.

6. Hospital Information Systems

mHealth apps for Hospital Information Systems, such as electronic medical records, electronic health records, and picture archiving and communication systems, facilitate the flexibility of retrieving essential patient information securely from anywhere at any given point in time. This also includes apps for administrative tasks such as medication prescribing, the management of patient information, and billing.

Leadership Key To mHealth Success

For those healthcare providers that embrace the barriers and choose to move ahead with mHealth projects because of the ultimate value they provide, there are some universally accepted best practices for guaranteeing constructive mobile solution rollouts. 

Firstly, health providers need to ensure they have buy-in and representation from all key leaders who will finally participate in implementing and using the mHealth app.

For example, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has established a dedicated mHealth committee that weighs in on all mobile initiatives under consideration at the facility. This committee is associative — including not only IT and  C-level executives, but also clinical leaders.

Not only does it pick technologies, but it also demarcates usage parameters and policies of how the mHealth solution will be used by the employees and the provider. This strategy promotes effective use of the tools in play, encourages adoption, and helps bring down security risks.

Another best practice in the industry at present is that of ensuring one has a system in place to keep themself updated with the latest happenings of mobile technology.

A new operating system upgrade or mobile device seems to be released every month or so. You want to ensure you are in stride with these changes so your mHealth app isn’t based on outdated technology.

John Hopkins Hospital takes a firsthand approach to addressing this topic. Whenever a new mobile device hits the market, the hospital’s IT department purchases it and rigorously tests it to discern its limitations and capabilities.

On the basis of this evaluation, the Hopkins’ IT staff decides whether or not the device will be added to its mHealth and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) initiatives.

This gets us to our next (and the most important) section- 

Crucial Considerations For Designing An mHealth App 

While medical apps share technical features with the majority commercial apps that have become omnipresent on smartphones, a few special considerations go into the development of healthcare apps.

Therefore, developers of these apps need to recognize the clinical perspective, which encompasses everything right from user interface experience and the health professionals’ workflow, right to interoperability. Privacy and security are also major issues–not to mention navigating the pertinent HIPAA regulations.

Here are some considerations that can help you design a good mhealth application.

1. Understand the Market & your End User

The app development project should first and foremost begin with a complete understanding of the clinical problem the app should address and relevant market needs.

Determine the target group (for example, Chronic Care Management, General Health and Fitness Apps, Medication Management Apps,  Diabetes Management Apps, Professional Medical Applications, Personal Health Record (PHR) Apps, etc.) and include only those features that truly suit the needs of your target audience. 

When building mhealth apps, it is extremely critical to collect all necessary data concerning usage, understand what all the stakeholders interested in the app might be looking for, and use the acquired information throughout the development lifecycle. 

One best practice is to involve practicing healthcare providers, specialized in the area your app will be servicing in, to assess the key issues the app will resolve for the users and to develop the functionality that will be most usable for your audience.

Additional features that aren’t necessary and don’t add much value to the app can be completely left out. Remember: to be successful in the market, any medical app should be based on the behavior of your end user.

2. Optimize Usability

The next crucial consideration deals with making your app easily consumable and as simple as possible. The sign-in/ registration process must be swift and shouldn’t require much time to get completed. Avoid too many clicks and screens for performing these actions. Provide the option of additional checks for when the app hasn’t been used actively over a specific time period. 

Then again, it would be a great add-on to make your app easily accessible in the event of an emergency, for instance, quick access to useful data such as the doctor’s phone number and information about previous allergies, hospitalizations, etc. 

Another excellent idea is to integrate the feature of data back up in the cloud in case of a misplaced or stolen phone. You can also encrypt the confidential information within the mHealth app to ensure it isn’t misused or accessed during data breaches.

The content on the app pages should be easy to read and the layout of these pages should be appealing to users. Users favor pages made with soothing colors. The spacing and alignment should also be appropriate and the headings clearly visible. Also, you should keep in mind the app target audience when designing its appearance – older people need larger text and bigger icons, and people with certain health conditions need an app that does not attract gawkers.

3. Practice Constant Testing & Support through the entire App Lifecycle

Quality assurance and testing are a must when it comes to developing an exceptional mHealth app. Proper testing, including testing the prototypes among the target audience, helps to ensure your app fulfils your users’ expectations and is easy to use. Hence, the app’s UX design testing should be executed at the end of every iteration, not just the final stages of app development. 

Test every single feature that is important for the users, and make sure you fulfil every criteria for the project. Support your app constantly and provide app users with undisrupted service. If new updates, versions and releases are made, your app should provide more value to your customers and deliver significant improvements at the same time.

You can also include features such as Medical Device Integration Software, Healthcare communication platforms, Electronic health tracking systems and applications, and Industry focused websites within your app.

4. Adhere to the Guidelines mentioned within HIPAA Compliance

When developing mHealth apps, it’s critical to understand what types of experiences and information come under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). 

The very first thing a developer needs to ascertain is if your mHealth app is going to collect, store, or transmit protected health information (PHI) which is regulated by HIPAA rules. PHI accounts for any information in a medical record that can be used to recognize an individual including: billing information, medical records, health insurance information, or any individually identifiable health information.

mHealth companies that are going to deal with PHI need to be HIPAA compliant. Even if you plan on interacting or exchanging information with covered entities, you need to be HIPAA compliant. However, if you are developing an application to track, store or manage information that doesn’t come under the PHI category, or are not going to be sharing the information with a covered entity, you don’t have to be HIPAA compliant.

To make your mHealth app HIPAA compliant, you need to follow these four rules:

1) Privacy rule

2) Security rule

3) Enforcement rule

4) Breach notification rule

The main rule for any developer who works on mHealth applications is the security rule, which describes physical and technical safeguards that need to be taken into consideration.

To create a secure app that’s fully HIPAA compliant, using reliable providers, a set of technical tools like libraries and third-party services isn’t enough. You need not only to encrypt the data in the software you develop but also make sure that it can’t be accessed if the server or device is physically compromised.

Remember to assess how much information you actually need for your app to operate and bring value to your users. HIPAA compliant apps don’t collect any information that isn’t necessary; if yours does, you’ll be spending resources on protecting the information you don’t actually need.

Lastly, the most important consideration is going to be choosing something that fits your pocket, especially since app development costs greatly vary across different US states. You can always choose custom app development without really paying much heed to including everything out there just because others are doing so. That way, you get an app you want at the price you want. It’s a win-win!

What Does The Future Hold?

While demand for and interest in mobility are certainly high, there’s no question that the healthcare industry has only begun to scratch the surface of how it can leverage mHealth to improve operational efficiencies, communication, and enhance patient care. 

Advancements in remote monitoring will allow mHealth to have an even more significant impact on the industry going forward.

mHealth is the natural evolution of healthcare, and it is the inevitable means by which many patient interactions will be conducted in the future. This remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: mHealth has shown the healthcare industry that the face-to-face encounter is not the only way to deliver care. By integrating mHealth, providers can access the timely information needed to improve patient outcomes — all from a virtual location.

Ruchika Sharma

Ruchika writes about the trends in technology space. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Architecture and is extremely meticulous about symmetry in everything she does. Not only is she an avid nature lover, but she also wishes to try her luck at learning mountaineering someday.