What’s more important than health? Surprisingly, it’s just in recent years that digital health has become a top industry that’s developing very quickly.
This can be seen, among others, in the increasing number of applications related to eHealth in Google Play and App Store. There were as many as 325k in total in 2017, of which 78k was released in 2017 (complete data for 2018 is still missing).
Once designed for contact, entertainment, and work, the devices are now used to completely manage our professional and personal lives.
Mental and physical health has come to the center of attention not only because of the patients’ condition but also because of significant savings in the health service. In the United States alone, this annual savings potential is calculated to be as much as $7 billion (1).
As a result, health has become one of the most important trends in the development of new applications that are linked to external devices or stand-alone services.
TL;DR: Key takeaways from the article
Creating a successful application is a challenge. But creating a successful digital health application is a superb challenge.
1. Security. Remember that you are working with very sensitive data concerning users’ health, so make sure with your CTO that this data is safe and in the right hands. If in doubt, use an external auditor. Check below 7 of the 60 points that are important for security screening.
2. Regulations. When you introduce products or services that deal with digital health, you are subject to the regulations that apply to your market. For the USA it will be the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and for the EU — the EU Regulations for medical devices (MDR).
3. UX/UI. In the case of digital health applications, test the functionality and ease of use of your target group. Consult specialists in your field of medicine. Think from the perspective of the end user. Remember, easy is easy, simple is not easy.
4. Testing = Quality. In particular, we expect digital health applications to work flawlessly. Do not save on testing the performance of the application by an experienced Quality Assurance Specialist, who will detect technical errors.
What’s a digital health application? Why it’s emerging?
The World Health Organisation defines digital health as providing health solutions through mobile devices.
Mobile Health (mHealth) is an area of electronic health (eHealth) and it is the provision of health services and information via mobile technologies such as mobile phones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).
Interestingly, the health service has so far worked in such a way that if you needed help, you had to pay for it. At the moment, this is changing and more can be earned when patients are kept healthy and prevent diseases more than they cure them.
This is also a direction of digital health, which is based on prevention, health, and well-being rather than treatment (2).
Why building a digital health app is different?
Is digital health application development something different from the development of other applications? I will try to answer this question from the point of view of our software company, which has been working every day for over 4 years with products from the field of digital health or FemTech such as Elvie Pump, Elvie Trainer or MysteryVibe.
When I talked to Bart Trzciński, CTO of Untitled Kingdom, he said that quality and security is the basis of every project, but especially in digital health it’s necessary to take care of proper risk assessment and security is a priority.
Similarly, in digital health, it’s important to take care of the regulations that are required in specific countries. In addition, there’s the issue of UX/UI, which suits people with specific conditions.
The satisfaction from working on a project that really helps people to live easier, healthier or more comfortable every day is also different.
When developing a digital health application, we are dealing with a lot of personal data. Sensitive data requires very robust security measures, also in terms of analytics, which must be completely anonymous, without the possibility of linking the data to a specific user.
We must also pay attention to integration with other applications or products — both on the code side and on the user side, we must be 100% sure that nothing will be shared and used. In the case of IoT devices, the protection must ensure that no one else can connect without the user’s consent.
Check the security features with a CTO or your technical expert. If you have further doubts about the data protection system, consider using an external security audit, including threat modeling and risk assessment. When our CTO prepares such an audit, the questions we go through include, among 60 other things:
- Are you ready to handle a cyber attack?
- Do you have a cybersecurity policy in place? (Privacy, Internet Access, Communication, Remote, Encryption, etc.)
- Do you use local encryption solutions for every computer/workstation used in your company?
- Do you have a policy on password guidelines and security practices for your team members?
- Do you use 2FA in your team at least for most crucial services?
- Is your application/service protected from DDoS attacks?
- Do you follow e.g. OWASP Secure Coding Practices?
When an app enters a specific market, it must be adjusted to the regulations of the country in question. Most of the documentation or security issues are the responsibility of the producer of the device, but on the software side, it’s also a key problem. Otherwise, the product may not be authorized to enter the market.
According to device classification, we conform to the required development process documentation. Several times we’ve had to meet the expectations of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the EU Regulations for medical devices (MDR). That’s where we know what they pay attention to. In fact, compared to other applications, in the case of digital health mainly the amount of documentation increases significantly.
Before releasing the product, it’s also worth asking security companies to conduct penetration testing. The regulations don’t say directly what needs to be done, but rather you need to prove that something has been done, so they can determine whether a given security measure is sufficient.
User Experience and User Interface are essential in every project but especially important in the case of creating applications for people with limitations, illnesses or for the elderly. It will be crucial to include people from the target group in this stage and take seriously their feedback.
In the case of creating digital health applications, it’s certainly much more worth focusing on the value of a given functionality, transparency than spectacular design. This doesn’t mean that the design should be weak. It’s simply sometimes not the key.
From our experience in the development of digital health applications, the most important thing is ease of use, a sense of safety or adaptation of the product to the needs of people with disabilities. We cannot use our intuition here, instead, we should try to think like our product’s user. We have to feel the problems of the person who is to use the application at the end.
We also believe that users’ satisfaction lies in their experience of the entire service. You should keep in mind both off-line activities and online actions, to provide experience as a whole. As they say, easy is easy, simple is not easy.
Testing = Quality
Even if the entire application development process is very well planned, in line with the regulation data and user needs, the testing phase is very important. Especially, if the application concerns health and affects the comfort of the user, we don’t want his peace or comfort to be disturbed.
When working with digital health or FemTech applications, we conduct even more user interviews, tests and consultations with industry specialists (e.g. neurology or gynecology) than with business products. It is extremely important that testers are from the right target group, in the case of digital health they have specific illnesses or problems.
For very accurate detection of any technical errors, we work with an experienced Quality Assurance Specialist, because as every user we expect each device to simply work well.
However, especially for delicate issues such as breastfeeding with Elvie Pump, kegel muscle training with Elvie Trainer or enjoying MysteryVibe, the interaction between the device and the application simply has to be flawless.
Why we focus on digital health apps?
The greatest fun for us is creating world-changing products in the area of digital health or FemTech, because they realistically change the comfort of life or improve the state of health. These projects are the biggest challenges for us, we learn the most with them, but also get the most satisfaction later on.
We are certainly a different team than when we started our first digital health project. We made a few mistakes, from which we learned the lesson and improved the processes so that they were adapted to the development of the product and eHealth applications.
So if your product or solution solves an important medical problem, we’re all eyes and ears to create with you another life-changing app. Just contact us.