Medical mobile applications, also known as mHealth apps, gained popularity post-pandemic, thanks to their assistance in early detection, fast screening, patient monitoring, information sharing, education, and treatment. But will medical applications continue expansion or lose prominence?
According to Grand View Research, the interest in medical applications has not faded away. In 2021, more than 350,000 health applications were available in app stores. Valued at US$38.2 billion, the mHealth apps market is expected to expand at a CAGR of 11.8 per cent from 2022 to 2030.
Here are some tips on medical app development to give secure the most viable solutions in healthcare:
Choose the right solution
The first step is to choose the type of app to develop. Here you need to understand what options are at your disposal and explore their characteristics:
Wellness apps are not directly related to medicine. They comprise different solutions, from activity trackers to meditation apps.
This category of mHealth apps is considered the most popular. For example, Statista reports that in 2022, Americans aged 18 to 60 invested in such solutions, and nutrition apps with 43 per cent became the leader. Somewhat behind them are sleep-tracking apps (34 per cent) and meditation apps (31 per cent).
So how to make such applications successful? First, you need a solid understanding of the target audience, their needs, and the problems they face.
In the case of wellness apps, the key user is an economically stable person who is mindful of their health and wellness. The only thing lacking is extra time. So to help them meet their personal goals with no additional time investments, you need to equip the app with a handy analytics solution.
To fuel user interest and engagement, you can also add a competitive spirit – launch some challenges divided into tasks. For every resolved challenge users get a specific reward such as a thematic badge.
As the app hosts personal data, you should pay attention to information security. It is recommended to set up multi-factor authentication and ensure end-to-end data encryption.
The other subtype of mHealth apps is therapeutic apps. Such solutions help patients manage their diseases or conditions effectively and at a moderate cost. Those apps often aim at mental disorders like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health issues.
As for the efficacy of such solutions, opinions differ. Some clinicians believe the apps are useless, while others state using an app is better than not getting treatment altogether. Nevertheless, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) takes those apps seriously. APA researchers developed the app evaluation model to help mental health practitioners choose an app for themselves and their patients. The model evaluates app safety and privacy, scientific evidence for its efficacy, user-friendliness, and interoperability.
Another promising field for therapeutic apps is physiotherapy. Today, there are a lot of mobile apps developed to facilitate home training for patients and exercise monitoring for doctors. Such apps make use of the camera and mobile device sensors. Some of them also employ AI to deliver an immersive experience to patients. Physiotherapeutic apps also offer some features that foster patient-provider cooperation.
For example, with PT Timer, a physiotherapeutic app, patients can describe what went well and what did not when the training is complete. The app lets patients complete their programs smoothly while following their health therapist's instructions.
Chronic condition management apps
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), six in 10 Americans live with a chronic disease, and four in 10 have more than one condition. Besides, the number of people of different ages with chronic diseases is rising annually.
Hence, developing a solution catering to that group can be a good investment. Symptom trackers, educational materials, health diaries, and other handy helpers are popular in this area. Such applications help patients be in control of their condition. As a rule, the apps have personalised drug reminders to help patients follow their drug regimens.
It also makes sense to set up a vendor-agnostic integration with devices for tracking vitals. Such apps also have an analytic solution that assists patients and doctors with tracking their health data over time and identifying various trends and patterns.
The solution can also assist patients with shifting to healthy lifestyles with the help of customised reports regarding different non-clinical data.
Last not least, chronic condition management apps help patients reduce their healthcare spending. In some cases, reaching out to the doctor to ask a question is enough, with no further consultation required.
Can mHealth solutions bring more harm than good?
At times apps designed to help can turn dangerous. That is not only about chronic condition management apps but also about solutions for relatively healthy people.
For example, an article published in JAMIA in February 2020 investigated safety concerns. The researchers studied over 74 publications describing mobile apps of this kind and found that 80 per cent of those contained 80 potential health risks.
Eighty-three per cent of those risks covered health information an app provided. It was either incorrect or incomplete. Moreover, some apps prompt users to risky behaviour. For instance, an app for monitoring alcohol consumption offered users data on how much more alcohol they could take before their driving ability was affected.
To prevent providing erroneous or dubious recommendations, you need to have qualified medical professionals reviewing your app content. Professional medical consultants can help you ensure your application provides benefits and does not contain any harm.
Given the growing popularity of mobile medical applications, the interest in them from providers, users, and developers is also growing. But how to choose which project to launch?
You need to explore the options available and weigh the potential hurdles that each one presents. The main risk shared by all mHealth applications is the potential danger to users. That occurs when industry specialists are not involved in the development. Without careful review and approval by medical professionals, the project may bring financial losses and litigation.
Therefore, it is always better to have an expert by your side to proceed with building effective and safe mHealth solutions.
Inga Shugalo is a US-based Healthcare Industry Analyst at Itransition: Software Development Company.