Mobile Health App Design: 5 Tips - InformationWeek

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Healthcare // Mobile & Wireless
09:07 AM
Rachel Saidman
Rachel Saidman
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Mobile Health App Design: 5 Tips

Mobile apps for doctors and patients hold the promise of better health management. Here are five things app designers should keep in mind.

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The race to lure customers with unique mobile experiences is heating up as mobile adoption rates in developed countries reach a saturation point. In healthcare, the proliferation of mobile devices (think: phones, tablets, biometric devices, and bar code scanners) has begun to introduce efficiencies and enhancements across the care continuum.

An HIMSS survey finds 45% of clinicians are using mobile technology to communicate across care teams, collect and aggregate data, and monitor and communicate with patients. Mobile technology also provides patients with access to information, tools, and services that enable a more active role in the management of their own -- as well as their families' -- health.

[What are the tradeoffs of greater patient involvement? Read Healthcare Consumerization: Side Effects May Include...]

That said, as new designs are implemented, organizations must consider both the core user characteristics and needs, and the unique capabilities and limitations, of each mobile channel and device. "Mobile-appropriate" experiences live at that intersection:

1. Be prepared for BYOD
More doctors and nurses are bringing their own mobile devices to work. Although nearly one-third of health IT professionals surveyed by HIMSS say their organizations support only the devices they provide, more than one in five organizations supports personal devices enabled for work activities. Healthcare IT departments should continue to find ways to extend valuable mobile physician experiences to a variety of institutional and personal devices so healthcare workers are able to use the tools most easily accessible to them.

2. Design for the device
"Responsive" web design -- design that dynamically responds to the screen size of the device being used for comfortable viewing -- has advantages but also limitations. You might not need to go as far as building a native application. However, consider building a device-specific mobile web product for phone, tablet, or both. The benefits of a tailored user experience might offset the additional development cost and resources required to maintain multiple code bases.

3. Remember the masses
According to a 2013 report, 41% of households with an annual income of less than $25,000 do not have access to broadband. As telemedicine becomes a prevalent mode of care, consider extending provider services through an optimized mobile experience, not just desktop.

4. Security -- and caregiver support -- are paramount
As patient records are increasingly augmented with caregiver information, being able to securely and privately share information back and forth between those that manage information and those that own patient records will become more important. Think carefully about how to include caregivers and others who support patients when it comes to better access and flow of information.

5. Device to desktop and back
Reports show that 90% of consumers start a task on one device and finish it on another. While designing mobile experiences, think about the user flow between devices as well as the best use of each device. The more seamless the experience across devices and platforms, the better.

Has meeting regulatory requirements gone from high priority to the only priority for healthcare IT? Read Health IT Priorities: No Breathing Room, an InformationWeek Healthcare digital issue.

Rachel Saidman is the COO and Healthcare Practice Lead at Comrade, where she oversees the company's workflow and operations, as well as the digital health practice. Previously, she held operational and strategy roles at Eveo, a digital agency focused on the ... View Full Bio
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Amanda Havard
Amanda Havard,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/3/2014 | 11:54:46 AM
Mobile Health App Design
Great points and design considerations here. And as telemedicine and doctor use of such tools increases, I'm interested also in how these tools will start to develop for healthcare that's already mobile, like home health. This seems particularly salient in light of two points you highlight. The first: Remembering the masses. Populations in the most need — like Medicaid members — are more likely to have internet access via smartphone than they are anywhere else. This certainly informs the decision of app v. web and should also allow for major insight into who needs what tools in what medium. The second key point: in terms of BYOD, many orgs are sticking to their guns on owning devices and only supporting those, enterprise-style. I think this is a mistake. Especially for home health workers or anyone who cares for disenfranchised populations, allowing useful tools on their own devices might be the only way to offer access to advanced tech (beyond paper, beyond phone calls).
suresh katakam
suresh katakam,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/5/2014 | 7:36:04 AM
Re: Between responsive and native
Response web design is a must to give good user experience who visit website. But if a doctor or professional has to use the app on a daily basis, its best to develop it as a native app. you can add more features like offline support, rich user interface etc when the app is using native APIs.

IMO, you should have both to satisfy the needs of different users.

User Rank: Apprentice
5/30/2014 | 3:29:56 PM
Re: Flexibility and Security
Totally agree - balancing security with user needs is a difficult challenge. The importance of security and privacy cannot be overlooked or shortchanged.
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
5/30/2014 | 11:03:55 AM
Between responsive and native
What would be an example of a mobile experience that goes beyond responsive web design but stops short of a native app? I'm imagining some scenario where you manually designed a tweaked mobile web experience for the iPhone or iPad, rather than rely on some JavaScript routine to do it automatically.
User Rank: Ninja
5/30/2014 | 10:05:58 AM
Flexibility and Security
BYOD is happening and will continue regardless of security and compliance concerns. Making sure patient data on a doctor's personal device is secure is of the utmost importance. From a practitioner standpoint, I would argue that security has to trump usability. From a patient standpoint, there needs to be a balance of usability and security.
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