App Development in Healthcare: Potential Challenges and How to Address Them

Robby Gupta

Thanks to the introduction and evolution of mobile technology in the healthcare industry, there is an increased awareness and people are able to manage their health using only healthcare apps on smart handheld devices such as smartphones, tablets, personal digital assistants (PDA) etc. No wonder the healthcare mobility solutions market is expected to reach $148 billion by 2025, as a MarketWatch press release states.

These apps provide a wide range of features such as tracking health vitals, detecting ailments, supporting treatment by storing and sharing health data and much more. As people become more conscious about their health, apps are increasingly being considered as a need. They are not only cost-effective but also are saving patients unnecessary trips to the clinics for consultation and follow-up appointments.

However, even with all the accepted and recognized benefits associated with the healthcare and hospital apps and their usage, certain potential challenges exist in front of the healthcare providers and app developers that they can’t afford to overlook. So, let’s take a look at these challenges and understand how they limit the app development process.

The high cost of app development

Clearly, app development involves a cost. Since it’s not a core competency or an in-house talent for many healthcare organizations, barring the large ones, they have to hire third-party developers and their services come at a considerable fee.

Additionally, in the quickly evolving healthcare landscape, apps have a much bigger and more complicated role today than what they had in the past. Medical apps today require AI and machine learning features that enrich it with advanced functionality to improve their performance and record crucial health data and share it on the go, send alerts, recommended treatment plan etc. All of this together shoots the app development cost even higher which is a challenging factor.

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Data privacy concerns

This is the age of information and data is the currency, especially in the medical field. Every healthcare software system, including apps, collects some amount of data from the users. Healthcare data includes sensitive patient information and that’s where a major challenge lies in developing a health app. App developers are usually third parties and handling this type of information requires a great deal of trust.

In addition to that, these hospital and patient apps use web servers to store and transfer data which makes them all the more prone to security issues. Recent ransomware attacks have raised serious questions on data privacy because if the servers of large healthcare organizations can be breached, apps leave an obvious concern as they are more vulnerable to attacks and are simply installed on a private handheld device. This makes cloud integration of the app all the more difficult because of security concerns associated with it.

One solution to this is to determine what data should be stored on external servers and delete the information which is not required anymore.

HIPAA Rules and Regulations

HIPAA compliance is one of the most fundamental guidelines in the US healthcare industry. Not only is it aimed at keeping the patients’ interest protected, but failing to abide by it may cause severe repercussions for the healthcare providers. That’s why another challenge which the healthcare app developers face is having to be compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA requires the developers to create apps in compliance with its policies and regulations. This includes ensuring an industry-level digital security for apps dealing with sensitive patient data in order to maintain its confidentiality and security.

While it is undeniably crucial for every healthcare organizations to be compliant with patient health information, it can turn out to be a limiting factor in case of patient app development as it limits the creativity an innovation of the developers and the resulting app fails to be an optimum solution to address patient problems in the manner intended.

FDA Compliance for health apps

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raises a probable liability on the app developers. Although this liability generally applies to medical devices, which mobile app solutions are not, FDA is clear in its stand that any app which has a possible impact on the functioning of an FDA-regulated medical device also needs to follow FDA regulations. Any healthcare app, whose functional deviation, such as miscalculation or data misinterpretation, can pose a risk to a patient’s health and safety, should come under FDA governance. And incidentally, there are several such health apps that the patients are depending on to keep a check on their daily health routine.

Ease of use

User experience is a determining factor in the adoption and success of the healthcare app. Creating a simple app with the user-friendly interface can often be difficult for the developers and that can result in a negative user experience.

For doctors and clinicians who rely on medical apps to access patient profile and health records, an unnecessary complexity in the app may delay the services and affect the operations negatively. This results in an inefficient functioning of the hospitals and poses a risk to the patient’s well-being.

In case of patients, the concern is bigger because they usually avoid the apps with a complex user interface. Besides, additional security features to protect patient data can further prove to be a nuisance to them. There are two key factors playing here. Firstly, their medical literacy level in limited when compared to the medical practitioners. Secondly, they use different mobile platforms and quite a few of them own a basic handset which nullifies the possibility of using an app.

Compatibility with legacy hospital systems

Advancements in medical technology have made interoperability crucial to the efficient functioning of the healthcare system. This means the medical applications and devices should be able to communicate and work with one another across the organization for the operations to run efficiently and deliver a high-quality patient care.

However, when it comes to health app development, this can be a considerable challenge as there is no uniformity in the software functionalities among hospitals which makes coordination among various systems difficult. Therefore, there can be a compatibility issue for the apps to work with the legacy systems and they may not be able to provide intended results to the organizations that are still using obsolete healthcare technology. A good example of this can be electronic health records (EHR) where it may turn out to be a hindrance for the app to extract information from the legacy database or vice versa.  

Health apps have certainly found a growing inclination among people in recent years as they have started to pay more attention to their health. While the healthcare industry has also shown a strong liking for health apps and there is a great opportunity for these apps to contribute to better care delivery, self-health management, and improved health outcomes, there continue to be certain challenges in the health and medical app development.

That being said, these challenges aren’t bottlenecks and with careful planning, it’s possible to overcome them. Following regulations, selecting efficient and trusted app developers, designing a user-friendly interface, and adopting innovative technologies – this is all it takes to tackle all the issues and increase patient engagement.

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about the author

Robby Gupta

Robby Gupta is the head of US operations for TechJini, Inc. He has had varied experiences working in New York, Cupertino, and Bangalore with packaged & amp; custom web and mobile app development for an assortment of industries. His current focus is Immersive Technologies, IoT, AI bots and their applications in the digital enterprise.