Mobile App Development For Healthcare: Where to Begin And Which Way to Go
The health domain is rapidly expanding into the digital realm and healthcare apps development faces the highest demand ever. From efficient appointment scheduling to convenient telemedicine, many practical applications of mobile solutions are transforming how doctors interact with patients, treat them and monitor their condition and stats, and prescribe drugs.
Due to a broad target audience and cutting-edge technologies, healthcare app development remains an attractive option for aspiring enthusiasts. However, developing a mobile solution for medical facilities, pharmacies, or private users is no easy task. After all, a person’s well-being (or even life) can depend on its accuracy, safety, and performance. In the article, we explore the main types of mHealth software, what tech stack can be used to develop a healthcare app, the development process itself and the eventual risks and challenges.
Types of healthcare software development
Such apps can be employed for a variety of tasks, which is reflected in the plenitude of types of healthcare apps currently present on the market.
- Telemedicine software enables healthcare practitioners to interact with patients remotely using a web site or a mobile app. In addition to video conferencing, some apps provide other functionality such as e-prescriptions and billing capabilities.
- Electronic health records (EHR) software can be described as a CRM system tailored to the services of hospitals and clinics. These programs collect patient information, such as ongoing treatment, medical and appointment history of patients.
- Appointment management software for processing patient bookings makes it possible for people to arrange appointments via an application or web site and get prompt notifications about upcoming visits.
- E-prescription software is used by doctors to issue, renew or cancel prescriptions and track medication history. The software not only makes prescribing drugs easier but also helps to prevent possible conflicts between medications that may result in adverse health effects.
- A digital solution for pharmacies makes purchasing medicine just as convenient as online grocery shopping and can also be synchronized with e-prescription software to allow users to order delivery of prescription-only medication.
- Hospital and equipment management solution helps hospital administration in managing day-to-day activities, covering accounting, billing, inventory, and maintenance.
- Health tracking software includes a wide selection of digital solutions that help users track training progress and nutrition consumption. Integrations with smartwatches, wristbands, and other portable devices expand the capabilities of such applications to collect necessary information automatically and provide accurate analytics and advice.
- Remote patient monitoring is a distinct category of software for health data recording that transmits data to a clinic or specific health practitioner to help in diagnosis or monitor treatment results.
Healthcare software development technologies and architecture
The choice of technologies and programming languages for mobile healthcare app development is influenced by multiple factors, including functionality, supported services, use case scenarios, type of audience, and so on.
Front-end is the part of software that end users interact with. The choice of technology for front-end development depends on software type and functionality, devices it is expected to run on, and the project’s budget. With mobile healthcare application development, you may choose either of the options: to build native applications that are exclusive for every particular platform (native Android healthcare application development on Kotlin and native iOS development on Swift) or use a cross-platform framework to create applications for several platforms from a single code base.
Surf has built many of its apps using Flutter cross-platform framework, which currently allows building software for all five major platforms (Windows, web, iOS, Linux, macOS, Android) with one set of code and just minor adjustments. While having performance and capabilities on par with native applications, the software built with Flutter requires only one development team. This can save up to 40% of a budget allocated for development, as it happened to one of our clients who asked us to create 6 mobile pharmacy apps (iOS and Android) for three brands.
Back-end consists of server-side objects and databases that are necessary for sustaining app functionality. While remaining unseen to app users, this part of the application is responsible for processing their requests and operating the software in accordance with its logic and elements of architecture. Among technologies that Surf uses in its backend projects are Kotlin and Golang programming languages, Jenkins and Github Action for performing CI/CD, Clickhouse, PostgreSQL, and MongoDB for setting up databases, as well as cloud solutions provided by Google and Amazon.
Application Programming Interface (API) is a set of protocols and technologies that work as a mechanism of communication between app’s front-end and back-end, as well as third-party digital services. It allows a developer to access and interact with certain back-end features or data without having to dive into the underlying technological specifics. APIs are required for the development of seamless and responsive mobile app experiences that rely on real-time data and dynamic content.
Custom healthcare software development: from ideation to release and maintenance
Having reviewed the most common types of software and technologies used in its development, let’s take a closer look at the key steps of medical app creation.
Whether it is desktop, web, or mobile health application development, it is critical to center the concept on a problem and its solution. Prior to moving further with prototyping and MVP (minimal viable product) development, it is critical to test the idea’s viability and future business scalability by assessing market demand.
Market analysis, which mainly involves business analysts and a project manager, is required to guarantee that the conceived application has real value and provides it in the best possible way. This is done by evaluating competitors’ strengths and limitations, the market’s landscape, and developing strategies to stand out on it. User research is also essential, which can include interviews or surveys that highlight mental and physical conditions that can be treated (or prevented) better with the help of digital technologies.
Although it might not seem as an aspect of the first priority, UI/UX design of a health app is extremely important, especially for the software dedicated for patients use: the growing competition in the sector makes a poorly-designed app automatically lose a couple of points to competitors. While building a health application, design factors such as interface, screen rotations, button positioning, and others must be taken into account. Overall, the app’s appearance should serve the key goal of comfortably directing users through each use case scenario.
When Surf developed a mobile app for retail chain, our UX/UI designers put a significant effort into creating multiple search options to empower users with flexibility and allow them to search for particular items even by a photo or a barcode. Another challenge was to make the customer journey as simple as possible. In this particular app of ours, it takes only 6 taps for users to get from choosing items to finalizing order placements.
Usually, the ultimate stage of UX/UI design, which follows the creation of screen wireframes, is the development of a completely functional prototype of an application or Minimally Viable Product (MVP) that includes all key features and allows the app’s concept to be tested by real users.
The key stage of the app development is obviously the process of writing code for it. Carried out by a single or several development teams (in case of multiple applications for different platforms developed simultaneously), the mobile development process involves programmers who collaborate with UX/UI designers and QA engineers, and a project manager who orchestrates the whole thing, observing that deadlines are met and the final product adheres to business specifications.
The significance of having a healthcare app thoroughly tested can hardly be emphasized enough. After all, a video player that freezes during a playthrough can be mildly annoying, but a mobile application that produces wrong advice is useless and even potentially harmful for the users.
In their work, testers ensure that the app performs smoothly and without delays in all possible scenarios, and has no critical errors or minor bugs that prevent users from having a positive experience. In Surf’s projects, testing usually takes place concurrently with the development stage, since the early involvement of QA specialists contributes to the application being more in line with the original vision and decreases error fixing effort later on.
When all of the discovered bugs are fixed, the time comes to officially launch the project. This step involves a company submitting the newly-made app for approval to digital stores, Google Play for Android, and App Store for iOS. If all criteria are met, the application is released to the general public. It is also worth noting that the approval procedure implemented by stores is what a company would have to go through every time it releases a new version of the software.
Support and maintenance
After release, all healthcare apps development processes practically return to prototyping stages, albeit on a much smaller scale. To keep up with the competition and constantly emerging novel versions of devices and operating systems, the application should continually receive updates that include new and additional features, bug fixes, and support for new OS versions and platforms. Moreover, if the health app is perceived as one of the sales channels, updates and their prioritization should be made after thoroughly considering marketing data and reports covering user acquisition, conversion, and other metrics, as well as the influencing factors.
The support & maintenance stage is usually handled by an in-house team of a smaller size compared to the team of specialists involved in the initial development. Because of this, it is important to ensure the initial creators of the application have all related documentation in order before transferring the project in-house. For example, we at Surf always strive to have every feature of an app documented in detail, as well as provide comprehensive guides of the app’s logic and architecture.
Cost of mHealth software development
Numerous factors determine the cost of building an app. Among them: project’s complexity, the type of partnership with a development team, and the team’s geographical location. Let’s take a closer look at each of these aspects.
Apart from having a complete in-house team, which is usually impractical (and expensive) for any enterprise that doesn’t develop software solutions regularly, there are two main models of partnering with developers: dedicated team and team extension.
The dedicated team model is when a complete team of specialists is assigned to the project. The model implies that the team can work completely autonomously under the control of its project manager, who in turn acts as a link to the client’s representatives and makes sure that both parties are on the same page and the development goes according to plan. The main goal of this model is to quickly hire a team of professionals who possess the required knowledge and skills, as well as established work ethics, and can deliver a specific project within the agreed timeframe.
On the other hand, the team extension model means that the members of an external service provider company ‘fill in the missing gaps’ within the client’s team. Such a team is managed by an in-house project manager and is required to adapt corporate culture standards and work processes to become an integral part of the client’s company.
An extended team can effectively fill missing technical gaps for a growing company, while its members can grow professionally within the enterprise, building strong bonds with other employees. However, in contrast to a dedicated model, the extension team requires the client company to handle HR processes and pay the developers fixed salaries even when the most active phase of the development is done. This may become a burden after the initial release of an app since some mobile developers might end up having not enough tasks on hand, while still receiving the benefits of full-time employees.
The cost of health application development is largely determined by the number of features and their complexity. Here, the utilization of tested and secure APIs (application programming interfaces) can effectively decrease the final cost. It allows developers to avoid creating numerous integrations with a device’s modules and third-party hardware from scratch, and rely instead on ready-made solutions that only need to be slightly adjusted to a particular healthcare app.
The price is also influenced by the high-level type of the project. App modification means extending and enhancing the capabilities and functions of already working software solutions. Software integration refers to writing code that allows an application to become part of another digital solution or ecosystem and extend its functionality. New custom software development, whether mobile, desktop, or web, involves writing the larger share of an app’s code from scratch and building a brand new independent application.
Size of a team
Another significant factor in the price of health mobile app development is the developers’ team size. It is determined by the project’s type and complexity, as well as chosen tech stack. For small-scale operations, it can be enough to have just 3-5 specialists: a project manager, a couple of mobile developers, and a tester (it is even possible for a developer to execute the tester’s responsibilities). However, as the software solution gets bigger, so does the size of the team, which also requires UX/UI designers, business analytics, QA specialists, and so on. The number of people doubles if it is native development for mobile since there are two simultaneous but separate ongoing projects for Android and iOS.
Location of developers
The country where the team resides has a significant impact on development expenses. For example, Android engineers from the US have average hourly rates of $80–100 per hour, which is almost double the rates of developers from Western European countries, who charge $40–50 per hour and write code of an equally high quality. Employing an offshore company can positively affect the final cost of creating a health app and offset any inconveniences, such as no physical meetings availability or time zone difference.
In general, there are two approaches to estimating how much it is going to cost to develop a healthcare app. The fixed price model defines the final price of building an application before the work starts, guaranteeing that the project stays within budget but provides limited flexibility if some technical or business aspect changes in the course of the development. Any change in the fixed price model requires a lengthy agreement procedure and can potentially slow down the whole process.
Because of this, we at Surf are bigger fans of the time and material model, in which the whole development is divided into stages, each of them delivering some tangible results, and the client only pays for the work completed during each phase. This way, the team has more flexibility and can adapt the project to 100% fit the market and meet business requirements at the time of release.
Business challenges in the digital transformation process for healthcare
Driven by the growing demand for personalized and patient-centric care, the healthcare industry has undergone a significant digital transformation. While it offers numerous benefits, it also poses serious challenges for medical organizations.
- Meeting customer expectations. From booking appointments online to accessing medical records via mobile devices, people expect a seamless and hassle-free digital experience. To achieve it, healthcare providers must invest in digital mHealth solutions that offer convenience, accessibility, and personalization.
- Support of legacy systems and workflows. Many organizations in the sphere of public health still rely on somewhat outdated or outright old systems that are not easily combined with more modern software solutions. To fully leverage the benefits of digitization, a healthcare provider must find ways to integrate their new digital solutions with an existing health system, which requires planning with the utmost care, precise coordination, and comprehensive testing.
- Regulatory compliance is also a critical aspect of the development of healthcare software. HIPAA and other compliance regulations used to guarantee that the software solution meets industry standards for security and interoperability ensure that patient data is safe and the software can be integrated with medical facilities. Noncompliance with regulatory standards, which vary from country to country (and even from state to state), can result in legal and financial consequences, as well as reputational harm. As a result, a company must carefully explore the legal situation of the country they plan to launch their software solutions in. This can help to be on the safer side of industry standards and laws.
- Security of patients’ medical records and data is another challenge that gets more pronounced with the increasing risks of cyber-attacks and data breaches. Medical records are particularly sensitive to them as they contain personal and confidential information, which, if made public, can irreversibly damage the reputation of an organization. This includes investing in robust cybersecurity measures and partnering with a mobile development company that uses the latest solutions in the fields of encryption and multi-factor authentication.
The emergence of modern mobile apps and solutions for improving patient care and simplifying connection of people with doctors and other clinic and hospital staff allows businesses to achieve previously unattainable levels of engagement and accessibility. The success of healthcare application development is dependent on the adequate level of preparation, teamwork, and adherence to the industry’s best practices. Also, to avoid jeopardizing patient privacy and data, medical institutions must ensure that their mobile applications are safe and compliant with current regulations.
To successfully develop a mobile solution for healthcare, companies should invest in top-tier talent and collaborate with seasoned development companies that understand the industry’s particular problems and requirements. Every component of the app, from rigorous security to user-friendly interface, must be created with user convenience and preferences in mind.