Medical mobile applications have gained popularity during the pandemic. mHealth apps helped with early detection, fast screening, patient monitoring, information sharing, education, and treatment. Thanks to vaccination and other preventive measures, the pandemic has subsided. Will use of medical applications continue to increase or will adoption slow down?
According to Grand View Research, consumer interest in medical applications hasn’t faded away yet. In 2021, more than 350,000 health applications were available in app stores. Valued at $38.2 billion, the mHealth apps market is expected to expand at a CAGR of 11.8 percent from 2022 to 2030.1 What are the most viable solutions to develop? This article presents some guidelines for medical app development.
Medical App Development: Choosing a Solution
The first task 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. 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 18–60 invested in such solutions, and nutrition apps (with 43 percent) became the leader. Somewhat behind them are sleep-tracking apps (34 percent) and meditation apps (31 percent). 2
So how to make such applications successful? First, it is important to have a solid understanding of the target audience, their needs, and the problems they face. In the case of wellness apps, for example, 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 users meet their personal goals with no additional time investment, the app must be equipped with a handy analytics solution.
To fuel user interest and engagement, the app might include a competitive spirit — launch some challenges divided into tasks. For all solved challenges, users get a thematic badge as a reward.
As the app hosts personal data, developers must pay attention to information security. Developers should set up multi-factor authentication and ensure end-to-end data encryption.
Therapeutic Apps. The other subtype of mHealth apps is therapeutic apps. Therapeutic app solutions help patients manage their diseases or conditions effectively and at a moderate cost. These apps are often aimed 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 these apps are useless, while others say that using an app is better than not getting treatment altogether.
Nevertheless, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) takes these apps seriously. APA researchers developed the app evaluation model to help mental health practitioners choose an app for themselves and their patients. The APA model evaluates app safety and privacy and scientific evidence for its efficacy. It also evaluates user friendliness and interoperability.
Another promising field for therapeutic apps is physiotherapy. Many mobile apps have been developed to facilitate home training for patients and exercise monitoring for doctors. Such apps make use of the camera and mobile device sensors.
Some mHealth apps also employ AI to deliver an immersive experience to patients. Physiotherapeutic apps also offer 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 U.S. 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. In addition, the number of people of different ages with chronic diseases is rising annually. 3
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 mHealth solution can also assist patients with shifting to healthy lifestyles with the help of customized reports regarding different nonclinical data.
An added benefit is that these chronic condition management apps can help patients reduce their healthcare spending. In some cases, the app enables a patient to reach out to the doctor to ask a question, which may be all that is needed, with no further consultation required.
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 looked into safety concerns.
The researchers studied more than 74 publications describing mobile apps of this kind and found that 80 percent of those contained 80 potential health risks; 83 percent of those risks covered health information an app provided. It was either incorrect or incomplete.
Moreover, some apps prompt users to engage in risky behavior. 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, it is essential to have qualified medical professionals reviewing the developer’s app content. Professional medical consultants can help ensure that an application provides benefits and does not contain any harm.
Given the growing popularity of mobile medical applications, interest in them from providers, users, and developers is also growing. But how to choose which project to launch?
Developers should 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. Danger 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 industry expert or clinician assist in the development process in order to build safe and effective mHealth solutions.
- “GVR Report: mHealth Apps Market Size, Share & Trends Report — mHealth Apps Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Type (Fitness, Medical), By Region (North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, Middle East & Africa), And Segment Forecasts, 2022–2030,” Grand View Research.
- “Types of purchased health apps in the U.S. 2022,” Statista, Aug. 23, 2022.
- “Chronic Diseases in America,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
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