We sincerely hope that you’ve set out to build a healthcare app because you’ve identified a genuine pain point that a medical app can solve. Not because another smarty-pants is heralding the billion-dollar mhealth industry.
Our experience (helping startups raise over $165M) proves that a healthcare product is successful when its founders are truly passionate about improving people’s lives.
Let’s say you’ve figured the passion out. Do you also know the steps you need to take to develop a healthcare app that will change people’s lives?
Well, if anything, skim through our guide and make sure you’re covering all the bases. We’ll answer the most frequent questions on how to create a medical app.
Table of Contents:
- Step #1: Define your target audience.
- Step #2: To build or not to build a healthcare app?
- Step #3: How do Security, APIs, and Agile blend in a medical app?
- Step #4: Why sneaking up on users is a good thing.
- Step #5: Is your healthcare app built to last?
Healthcare Apps Market in 2021
If you are planning to make a medical app, it’s worth knowing what’s happening in the market. 2020 definitely made history as the year of COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic made quite a splash not only in our lives but also in the health apps market. Every aspect of healthcare that has to do with telemedicine, AI, and remote patient monitoring (RPM) got a huge boost (up nearly 300% in investment, according to CB Insights).
In 2021, digital healthcare innovations have continued to attract even more capital.
Sectors that have managed to reach new record-highs in healthcare funding include:
- Artificial Intelligence
- Mental health
- Digital therapeutics
Healthcare executives continue focusing on improving the patient experience by investing in development of telemedicine, EHR interoperability, and patient portals.
As doctors and patients are looking for new ways to connect while keeping their distance, telehealth apps will continue to dominate the space. I’m sure we’ll see more telemedicine and RPM solutions in the near future, but let’s take a look at what’s happening with healthcare apps in the stores right now.
According to Statista, there were 88,000 mobile health apps in Google Play and Apple’s App Store combined, and some random research into health-related applications claimed 325,000.
Related: How to Develop a Telehealth App
In 2021, people can choose from over 100,000 mobile apps for their smartphones, and admittedly, that’s a lot of apps to compete against. At the same time, if you check the top 100 ranking health products in both stores, you won’t notice much versatility. You’ll be scrolling through lots and lots of fitness applications, calorie trackers, period trackers, and meditation products before you get to a decent telemedicine solution like Healow or Babylon.
What’s more, the sum of downloads for the top eight telemedicine apps doesn’t even scratch the surface of what the health & fitness categories generate. So focusing on the meditation and fitness areas will probably get you further if you’re targeting the general public.
And if you came up with an idea to cater to your patients, then there’s no need to look at the trending products. Just make sure you’re adequately fulfilling your customers’ unique needs.
Types of Medical Apps
If we look at different types of mobile medical solutions available today, we’ll see many options gravitating towards three audiences: patients, medical personnel, and the administration. It certainly helps to know these before developing a health app.
Health Apps for Patients
- Appointment scheduling and reminders
- Habit tracking
- Fitness and wellness
- Social networking
- Mental health
- IoT medical products
- Women’s health
Health Apps for Providers
- Remote patient monitoring
- Medicine reference
- Hospital ERPs
- Clinical communication
- Appointments management
Health Apps for Medical Administration Staff
- Doctor/nurse marketplace
- Inventory management
- Practice management applications
As you can see, whether you want to develop a health app for iOS or Android, there’s plenty to choose from.
Top 5 Successful Healthcare Apps
It seems that any list out there ranking health apps is totally arbitrary. Would you make a list based on top free, paid, grossing, or trending, based on Google Play or Apple’s Store, or maybe take into account software review platforms like G2 and Capterra?
Instead, we turned to CB Insights with their Healthcare Smart Money list that shows where top-performing VCs betting on healthcare put their money.
We then discovered this precious list of startups, each building a health app, ranging by the investment size. And surprise-surprise, the best-funded apps come from those categories highlighted in the heatmap by CB Insights.
Without further ado, here’s the list of mobile products that people who professionally invest in healthcare put money on:
Video appointments with physicians and psychologists.
- more than 800,000 patients treated
- 5-star rating from 97% of its patients
- doctors and psychologists speak 25 different languages
- open 24 hours – 7 days a week
KRY helps people take care of their physical and mental health. The application allows users to book a video appointment with one of their doctors or psychologists – at a time and place that’s convenient for the user. They offer drop-in appointments, or users can book one at a specific time.
Managing medications and doctor’s instructions.
- Always have a medication list with you
- Reminders help you stay on schedule
- Organize important info in one place
CareZone makes it simpler to take care of yourself, an aging parent, and other family members that need your help. The app allows users to take pictures of meds (prescriptions, OTC, and supplements) and the names, dosages, and other details are automatically added. There’s easy access to the list of medications, dosages, and schedules.
A meditation solution with $168.2M vs. $116M for Calm — #1 medical app at the moment.
- Hundreds of guided meditations
- Workouts and mindful cardio
- SOS sessions for moments of stress
Headspace helps users get happy, stress less, and sleep well. It’s your guide to everyday mindfulness in just a few minutes a day. Users may choose from hundreds of guided meditations on everything from managing stress and anxiety to sleep, productivity, exercise, and physical health — including short SOS meditations for when they’re on the go.
A social network for people who have the same disease or condition, plus a real-time research platform.
- Find a supportive social circle
- Connect one-on-one to find answers
- Use smart tracking tools to learn how you’re changing over time
With the PatientsLikeMe app, users can find support and answers from people like them and tools that will empower them to control their health. One can learn how others manage their symptoms and see what’s working. Plus, users post updates and interact with others on a news feed. A DailyMe feature helps them log how they’re feeling on a daily basis and get support from other users.
#5. Hinge Health
An IoT medical app that comes with a tablet and wearable sensors to give users live feedback during stretches and exercises.
- Complete personalized exercise therapy sessions
- Move at your own pace through levels
- Learn about the best ways of beating persistent pain
Hinge Health is the pioneer in the area managing chronic musculoskeletal conditions,e.g., back or joint pain. The app and special clap-on sensors provide users with live feedback as they perform stretches and other exercises. The mobile app guides users through 15-minute sessions, and difficulty level gradually increases as the sensors data indicates the progress.
Check out our article about creating an IoT application
Must-Have Features in a Health Application
To build healthcare applications that people would actually want to use means to include features that engage users and offer them tangible benefits. Of course, the choice of features will depend on whether you want to build a mobile medical solution for glucose tracking, fitness, or, let’s say, for remote patient monitoring.
Still, there are a number of must-have features that every health application needs to be considered a success.
Integrations with Google Fit, HealthKit, and Samsung Health
Most healthcare apps have to deal with patient data. In that regard, services like Google Fit and HealthKit work as data hubs keeping user vitals.
Patient and doctor profiles
All app data should be organized in user profiles that patients and doctors should be able to edit at any point. Doctor profiles must include enough info about a specialist so patients can make their choice easier.
Being able to connect with care providers in real time via video calls or messaging has become a necessity if you want to develop a medical app that works at a distance.
Reminders and notifications
What mobile applications really excel at is keeping you up-to-date on your prescriptions and medicine intake. These notifications can be not only time- but also location-based.
Of course, all PHI data must be kept secure, and the HIPAA rules that every health app must adhere to, make sure you follow suit. Therefore, it’s vital to encrypt data, provide two-factor authentication, use secure connections, and follow many other protocols to keep everybody’s data safe.
Next-Gen Features in Healthcare applications
If we look closer at what technologies drive innovation in modern medical software development, we’d have to admit it’s the same technologies that attract the most funding. By adding the corresponding features to your medical app, you can significantly upgrade user experiences and guarantee higher adoption rates among patients and doctors. What exactly are we talking about?
AI and ML
Artificial intelligence is becoming absolutely instrumental in various medical spheres. Today’s healthcare software, equipped with machine learning algorithms, helps with early diagnosing, identifying health trends, and analyzing massive sets of health data. As a result, doctors can make decisions and adjust patient treatment faster, catering to their unique needs.
What are the most common applications of AI in healthcare apps?
- intelligent chatbots learning about the patient’s condition during a conversation
- medical imagery analysis and patterns identification
- symptom tracking and analyzing apps
- real-time posture detection
- ML algorithms fostering discovery and development of new drugs
- preventive medicine
- patient flow optimization
Blockchain is another novel technology set to disrupt the medical field. One of the major advantages that blockchain brings to the table is solving the interoperability issue. For example, solutions like Medblock allow healthcare organizations to share patient data securely on a permissioned ledger, which ensures all patient records remain tamper-proof.
- integration with multiple EHR systems
- medicine tracking in supply chains
- decentralized patient portals where each patient owns and controls access to her data
The internet of medical things has been a trend for quite some time. However, with the latest technology advancements, more use cases emerge for applying this cutting-edge solution. Modern IoT systems in healthcare go well beyond tracking patients’ vitals. Besides remote patient monitoring, IoT also helps with medical inventory management, assistance during surgeries, and pharmacy management.
- smart medical appliances
- wearables supporting advanced sensors like ECG and EDA
- traceable medicine
Of course, you can’t design a scalable healthcare app without addressing the big data issue. Since AI and IoT assume the generation of vast amounts of data, there needs to be a mechanism to process all this information. Therefore, architecting datasets that handle literally millions of calculations in real time goes hand in hand with implementing ML and IoT functionality in healthcare.
AR and VR
Despite augmented reality and virtual reality often being shrugged off as tech suitable just for games like Pokemon, there are quite a few practical applications for both in medicine. The first thing that comes to mind is therapy sessions with a simulated environment, especially when carried out remotely. AR also helps surgeons to train safely and teach students required skills, or it can be used for indoor navigation in clinics.
The 5 Steps to Build a Medical App
Step #1: You are building a healthcare app for …
If you are reading this, chances are you already know your target audience. We’ve discovered that successful medical apps are always built by someone serving in the field: either with a medical or nursing degree or working closely with healthcare providers. You really need industry-specific insights when developing a medical software program.
Define your medical app’s audience
Get to know the potential users of your app. Their needs and pet peeves will drive every significant decision you’re about to make when building the healthcare app. Remember, it’s all about their context for using your solution:
- Will users be standing or sitting?
- Will they have both hands free?
- Will they have time to interact, or will a glance suffice?
- Will they face patients when using the app?
Choose a suitable platform
These and myriad of other questions will influence the features you’ll build into the health app direct your choice of mobile devices and platforms:
- iOS or Android
- smartphones / tablets / smartwatches / smart speakers /
- AI integration by Google / IBM / Microsoft
- AR, VR, or IoT integration
Let’s look at some of the most popular types of healthcare apps out there. The diagram is far from covering the whole spectrum of apps that you can build of course. Instead, it’ll help you to jump-start on your app idea quest and, eventually, will allow you to hone in on your target audience:
And by the way, thinking outside the box is always welcome. Is there a place for a healthcare app game? You bet, there’s plenty in Google Play already! Is there a place for a solution that connects to a smart pillbox and tracks medicine intake? Yes, we developed a similar product.
Step #2: Here’s how you build a healthcare app without building it
Yes, that’s right. You don’t have to throw yourself into healthcare app development right after putting together a list of features and requirements. Every line of code is money out of your pocket. Why don’t you spend it on finalizing the concept of your iPhone healthcare app first?
You do this by prototyping: fleshing out medical features into clickable screens that look almost identical to a real-life product. The beauty of a clickable prototype is:
- you can experience it on your phone as if working with an actual app
- you can quickly get a prototype in the hands of users for A/B testing
- you can verify with a developer if all features are quite feasible on a selected platform
And all of that without draining your development budget. Despite being ultra-important when building a healthcare app, UX & UI work often accounts for a fraction of the total cost, unlike coding.
It‘s 10x cheaper to fix a design flaw while
prototyping than during development.
Joe Tuan, founder, Topflight Apps
Today, there’s no shortage of interactive tools for rapid prototyping. Some, like Balsamiq or Proto.io, are so easy-to-use that it will be hard to resist the urge to try your hand at putting together a couple of mocks. Others, like Adobe XD or InVision, require design resources with more hands-on expertise in app development.
The bottom line is when prototyping, you’re kind of building your healthcare app, and, at the same time, you’re not. Only because at this stage, your users can’t download the product or perform any non-hardwired action in the prototype.
Step #3: Key things to consider when developing a healthcare app that will stand out
At this point, you already have all the features that your medical app will ship with. And the click-through prototype. You’re fully equipped, and nothing can stop you from plunging headfirst into the development of your healthcare app, right?
Right — in many cases, but not so fast if you’re looking to build an exceptional healthcare experience. We suggest you consider these three points, if anything, to ensure you’re building a health app that will make a real impact.
Security & Compliance
No, it’s not about the proverbial HIPAA compliance that should be in place whenever patients’ protected health information (PHI) is at play. Depending on the type and functionality of your medical app, you will need to wrap your head around such concepts as:
- Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines for CareKit and HealthKit
- Android.os.health documentation
- IEC 62304, ISO27001, SOC2 Type 2, and a few other standards
- MFi Program
- HITECH Act, GDPR, and other regulations
Patient data should always be traveling to and from the app in an encrypted format over a secure connection.
APIs & Integrations
To lure in modern power users and newbies, your app will likely integrate with other services. That’s how you leverage the location and proximity data, make use of vitals offered via HealthKit, work with EHR systems, and do a lot of other wonders with your healthcare app.
Make sure if the corresponding APIs are available for commercial use and whether you are required to open source your code after using them.
Agile & Continuous Delivery
Agile is probably already one of your mantras. Well, it’s the perfect time to start practicing. When you build a healthcare app, it’s essential to realize that proceeding by brief, one-week sprints, you’re likely to arrive at the desired destination faster and with fewer iterations. There will be time to test the completed scope and adjust future sprints if necessary.
Another aspect you should be paying attention to is continuous delivery. The team developing your healthcare app must set up an environment that allows QA engineers and you to test completed features without interfering with the development of the next round of features.
Step #4: What’s next after you’ve built a healthcare app?
What do you do with an app that’s been built? That’s right — release it to the App Store, Google Play, or distribute it to users on an ad hoc basis if it’s a staff-only medical app. That’s also when the real fun starts. Because as soon as you launch the product, you start thinking about possible future iterations.
Sneak up on users, legit
If you’re teaming up with pros to build your healthcare app, your mobile product already integrates with some analytics that gathers usage metrics. All you need to do is read and interpret this data to find the potential for enhancements:
- you might want users to stick with the product longer
- you want to enable users to achieve their goals faster
- you might want to increase their spend
Whatever it is you’re trying to achieve — the app usage data coming, e.g., from Firebase or Appsee is a reliable source of insight for future upgrades.
Ask for user feedback openly
You can always integrate a customer feedback system if you want to allow users to vent their frustration with the app without leaving a negative review. To enable this functionality, take a closer look at the solutions like UserVoice or UserTesting. And it certainly never hurts to monitor and interact with user reviews you get in app stores.
Watch major OS updates
New features may also come as you update your healthcare app to support the latest OS version. It’s worth noting that even though most OS updates leave existing apps intact, updating your mobile product is always a better idea. This way, you don’t accumulate any technical debt and make use of the latest OS features.
Believe me, you don’t want to know what technical debt is (reach out directly if you do!). You just don’t want to accumulate this debt and spend a hefty budget on dealing with it later on.
Step #5: Build an ecosystem around your healthcare app
Now that your app is on track with receiving timely updates and new features (dull people call this a maintenance mode), it’s time to step back and take a look at the bigger picture. Do you see the potential for driving more value for your medical app users by extending to more platforms? Or is there a particular platform (smartwatch anyone?) that just calls for integration?
What if users could see more detailed reports in the cloud-based version of the app — the one they could access via a desktop browser? Does it make sense to come up with a smartwatch version?
At some point, you’re bound to start noticing these opportunities. So go ahead and turn them into growth points by building your healthcare app into an entire ecosystem.
How Much Does it Cost to Create a Healthcare App?
The cost of developing a health app can vary significantly: from an IoT-enabled $45,000 MVP for a pill reminder to a $160,000 telemedicine solution to a $280,000+ full-cycle practice management platform. Of course, the budget for building a healthcare app will always depend on the type of product you want to create.
One question we hear a lot is How to develop a healthcare app and not lose investors’ money?
The framework we often revert to, to help our clients optimize the ROI is rapid prototyping. The sheer fact of having a near-real-life experience with zero code always excites us. We build clickable, interactive prototypes, and then relentlessly test them with the target audience to make sure user journeys make sense.
And after we’ve verified that the solution offers an optimal user experience, we start coding it in the flesh. This approach considerably saves the budget required to create a health app.
We’ve prepared a calculator that includes things like HIPAA and IoT integrations. You can approximate your health app cost using our calculator here:
Our Experience in Developing Healthcare Applications
At Topflight, we’re lucky to have worked on quite a few versatile healthcare apps. The entire company was built on the idea to help providers and medical organizations develop top-flight apps that customers would embrace.
Today, we can boast apps from the following healthcare specialties in our portfolio:
- Remote patient monitoring
- Mental health
- Super-lightweight EHRs for clinics
- Uber for lab testing
- Fitness & wellbeing
- IoT solutions
- Enterprise-grade health applications
- AI-powered healthcare solutions
- Medical staff on-demand apps
Having developed numerous mobile and cloud healthcare apps, we know that success comes with engaging user experience and laser-sharp focusing on the customer. That’s why we always start custom developing mobile apps with rapid prototyping.
Even though we’ve touched upon many things concerning medical apps development, there’s always something extra that we share only with our clients and partners.
So if you’re looking to start a medical app, join the party by subscribing to our newsletter or schedule a call to ask more questions about building a healthcare app. It’s free and enlightening!
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[This blog was originally published on March 2, 2020 but has been refreshed to keep up with more recent updates]