I recently caught an exciting episode on the Healthcare Entrepreneur Academy podcast. Its host, Jason Duprat, a healthcare practitioner with zero software development experience, did his best to explain how to create a medical website and web or mobile apps.
By his own admission, it took Jason months to make sense of mobile and web development for healthcare. Yet, if we sum up that 30-min show, we’ll end up with:
- software is hard
- there are too many programming languages
- React and React Native are promising technologies
I sincerely appreciate people stepping out of their comfort zone and sharing their experiences. So I thought, why don’t we save you months’ worth of research and dive a little deeper to see what medical web development means, how it works, and what you can do with it to improve your healthcare services?
- Web development is at the front of the digital healthcare revolution. It underlies most modern medical software accessible via browsers and mobile apps.
- When you develop a medical website, your top concerns should be HIPAA compliance, scalability, customer-centered design, and interoperability.
Table of Contents:
- Why Does Your Company Need Healthcare Web Development?
- Types of Solutions for Healthcare Web Development
- Healthcare Web Development Trends
- Healthcare Website Development Components
- Key Functionality for Medical Website Development
- Steps of Medical Web Development
- How to Determine the Cost of Medical Web Development?
- Topflight Experience in Web Development for Healthcare
Why Does Your Company Need Healthcare Web Development?
The COVID-19 pandemic taught us all a valuable lesson. If you’re not online, if your business can’t serve customers online, you’re out of the game. Unfortunately, many healthcare businesses had to learn that the hard way too.
So today, healthcare web development is not a question of why but how. Clinics, hospitals, private practices, payors, and other entities operating in the health sector build web software to:
- effectively reach their target audiences at scale
- optimize internal workflows and cut costs
- provide better patient outcomes
- offer innovative and more affordable healthcare/insurance services
- reinforce a brand
- run massive clinical trials
And that’s just off the top of my head. If you’re considering medical web development, you already have clear business goals that may go well beyond this list.
Types of Healthcare Web Development
It’s funny; I recently wrote a blog about cloud computing in healthcare. So, without repeating myself, let me quickly explain what’s usually meant by web development for healthcare and what that really is.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when discussing web development? A website, right? So there you go, you can have a site developed — list all your services, add payment options, and all the yada-yada-yada.
I mean no disrespect, but sites are not what gets people excited about web development. After all, a website nowadays is kind of a given — it’s like having a business card a decade ago.
I’m sure you’d agree that a web application (the one that works in your browser) like Zoom or Gmail, only applied in a healthcare setting, can do much more than a website. So building a healthcare website is another option.
That’s what they tell you healthcare web development is:
- healthcare website development
- healthcare web application development
If you strip a typical mobile healthcare app, you’ll discover it has web stuff. These medical apps still need to connect to cloud servers to sync data. And when you have cloud connectivity, boom! Web development is required.
Another type of web development in healthcare that’s neither websites nor browser-based apps nor part of mobile apps is API-based services. Think of them as a tech layer applied in-between your mobile or web app to enable some functionality out of the box.
The Plaid API is a good example. You need that thing to securely connect to clients’ bank accounts, yet Plaid itself does not have a default front end — some app that everybody has to use. They just have the API healthcare web developers use when building a medical website.
There are all sorts of APIs for healthcare. Usually, they have to do with providing specific health data and tools for managing it.
To recap, healthcare web development includes:
- sites (no computations, primarily a marketing channel)
- browser-based apps (EHRs, etc.)
- all other apps (mobile or desktop) with cloud connectivity
Also Read: EHR Integration Guide for 2022
For all intents and purposes, in this blog, I’ll focus on everything from this list except medical sites, simply because we love to work on apps. I mean, we do have sites in our portfolio too, but frankly, sites not accompanied by apps are not what gets us up in the morning. So even when I mention websites below (to please the mighty Google), I mean web apps (sites that process data and generally do more than provide info).
Also Read: Healthcare App Development Guide
Healthcare Web Development Trends
What’s trending in web development for healthcare? Based on our healthcare experience, businesses are looking for these products and services:
- remote patient management systems
- ML data processing for various purposes: claims processing, pre-diagnosing, etc.
- self-help patient portals
- clinical trial management
- on-demand staffing
- symptom trackers
- medical sensors integrations
- EHR/EMR integrations/custom-built
- mental health chatbots
Delivering such innovative products takes expertise in AI and machine learning, medical IoT, natural language processing, and voice interfaces. We’re still figuring out ways to use blockchain technology to decentralize healthcare in meaningful ways.
A Guide to Building Mental Health Chatbots
Healthcare Web Development Guidelines
When you create a healthcare website, there are a few things you need to pay special attention to if you want to reach your ROI goals and stay compliant.
Compliance and security
Healthcare app solutions deal with protected health information (PHI) and therefore have to double down on security. The HIPAA and HITECH Act regulations will be your two significant areas of concern if you want to keep PHI data protected and safe.
Related: HIPAA Compliant App Development: Everything You Need to Know
Start by choosing a HIPAA-compliant cloud service provider like AWS, Google, or Microsoft and discuss all possible security safeguards with your development team, including:
- encryption of data at rest and in sync
- use of secure connection
- access rights management
- active session expiration
Today, any site should have built-in features to support people with special needs. And when it comes to healthcare web apps, compliance with accessibility guidelines becomes critical.
W3C Accessibility Standards include methods for presenting web content and technical specifications. So you want to look at those standards before web development starts.
Your customers (patients or healthcare providers) and their needs are the cornerstones of the online application you plan to build. Software’s UX and UI must adapt to their routines. That way, you can achieve a frictionless user experience and expect adoption.
Also Read: Top UI/UX tips to designing a winning application
Digital platforms of today don’t exist in a vacuum. They must be able to exchange data with other services, e.g., EHR systems or healthcare APIs. Your web app’s architecture should account for mechanisms to pull data from external sources and provide its own information to other systems via APIs.
Scaling a web interface for it to remain fully functional regardless of the screen size and medical devices it’s being used on is also critical for a successful healthcare web app.
We can shop from Amazon on notebooks, smartphones, and tablets. The same goes for your web solution.
Finally, as you know, healthcare software is all about working with data. Therefore, data visualization often becomes crucial for web healthcare development.
Healthcare Website Development Components
Now let’s get some perspective on what your developers will do when you ask them to create an online application. For most of us, it’s OK to know that code is being written, but what will they work on specifically?
Front and back of your application
To refresh your memory, software agencies always talk about front-end and back-end development:
- the front end is everything your customers interact with on a screen
- the back end is everything processing, transmitting, and storing data
So building front ends involves designing and coding user-friendly interfaces, primarily for browsers. However, you can also choose to create a progressive web app — a mobile app that works on phones (offline, too) and is made using web technologies.
As for the back end, developers will set up servers and databases, build APIs, connect to external APIs, create data lake pools (sometimes), and code the rest of the logic for processing app data.
Again, because health apps deal with massive data sets that must be interchangeable, you need to build a healthcare website bearing in mind the data standards specific to the healthcare industry, for example, HL7, FHIR, USCDI, and DICOM, among others.
Key Functionality for Medical Website Development
There’s no way I can tell you what features you should or should not include in your web solution because every application has its unique purpose.
How about we review the key features often found in the healthcare web apps we build at Topflight?
Since most healthcare applications involve patient data, I often see a dashboard concisely presenting this data as a focal feature.
Many open-source libraries simplify the process of adding this functionality. However, it’s not exactly a simple copy-paste of code; some customization is always needed.
Also Read: A guide to building a dashboard web app
Mapping and, to a lesser degree, navigation are handy when we need to locate patients and providers or track medicine and other medical inventory delivery.
Geofencing is one of the exciting location features we’ve been adding to apps. The app recognizes certain areas on a map and sends notifications or starts tracking activities when the user is nearby.
AR is perfect for teaching surgeons and other healthcare professionals to perform dangerous operations with careful guidance overlaying virtual objects in an actual medical setting.
Another use case is having patients repeat exercises after a virtual avatar. Then, navigation in clinics; the limit to this technology’s applications is only your imagination.
As already mentioned, we see more and more solutions focusing on automatic data processing for diagnosing, preliminary consultations, financial optimizations, etc. And it’s often backed by medical IoT integrations — real-time health data from medical sensors.
E-commerce brings the convenience of couch shopping for patients and desk shopping for providers. Sometimes this functionality can manifest as a marketplace where patients and providers search for on-demand services.
Chances are you’d need this feature if you want to remove any friction from the patient onboarding process. Instead of constant back and forth with phone calls, have a smart calendar with notifications that dynamically adjusts to doctors’ schedules.
A chatbot can be a complete app, like the one we built to help veterans recover. However, you can always enhance practically any application with a chat feature.
The chatbot will help answer typical questions, navigate patients through your catalog of services, and do a lot of other stuff 24/7.
After the pandemic, it’s hard to find a health care business that hasn’t considered adding some form of telemedicine to their existing solutions. When working on a solution, it’s best to pick a telehealth website design and development company that covers everything from design to delivery.
Payments and notifications
These two features seem pretty straightforward. On the other hand, if you think about a complex scheduling platform where patients and doctors can make changes and a payment solution that’s integrated with insurance providers and patients — this functionality can become pretty intimidating during implementation.
5 Steps of Medical Web Development
Everybody can build a web app today, even healthcare professionals with zero coding experience!
Using platforms like Squarespace or WordPress, one can build a medical website with the most basic features. Web apps are a little trickier, but you can still manage on your own, working with no-code or low-code platforms like SharePoint.
However, my experience tells me that even if you decide to invest your time into healthcare web development, using these ready-to-go, customizable platforms, you will likely hire developers familiar with the platform to make the juice worth the squeeze.
Regardless of the approach, you’ll need to go through certain steps on your health website development journey. What are they? Plain and simple:
- Code & Test
Here’s a little more on what they look like in real life.
Step 1: Strategize
It goes without saying that before developing a web application, you need to scrutinize your customers’ needs, analyze the competition, and set priorities in terms of ROI goals.
Depending on your progress in this first phase of medical website building, we run a Preflight Workshop at Topflight to help you:
- define your business model
- think through the product’s ecosystem and its technical components
- develop a rough version of the roadmap
- identify key features and their impact on meeting business objectives
As an outcome, we should have:
- lean canvas with the summary of the business model and plan
- component and feature list (high-level, prioritized feature list with rough estimate)
- strategic roadmap (10,000-foot view of the delivery plan)
Step 2: Prototype
The next step is to start fleshing out the UI and user experience of the software. We must first validate our design ideas to develop a healthcare site (or app) that generates real traction.
First, it’s cheaper to iterate than coding/testing costs. And second, we can quickly discover flaws and optimize the solution based on user feedback. Doing the same during the active coding phase is what usually buries a project.
One thing to note here is that if we’re working on an AI solution, we should also spend some time creating a proof of concept for the ML algorithms that will power our solution. We do this to validate that the AI piece can garner the required outcomes, and we can work on that in parallel with UI/UX prototyping.
Step 3: Code & Test
We can’t build a health website or web app without coding and testing. That’s when health web developers and QA engineers can flex their muscles. Here’s a bird-eye-view of how it looks in practice:
- A product manager grooms a feature list in a product backlog, prioritizing them based on business goals
- Developers write code for the front end and back end, releasing new builds (preliminary app versions) every two weeks
- Testers look for bugs in new and previously released functionality
- A project manager coordinates everybody on the team and keeps you up to date on the progress
- NB; you actively share feedback on the preliminary results
I love coding these days because we don’t need to code each feature entirely from scratch. Instead, we can pick open-source or commercially available SDKs (pieces of ready code) and customize them. One example is using HIPAA-compliant cloud services from AWS or Google Cloud, but that goes for many things, like chats or video calls (otherwise, a tremendously arduous task).
Related: Web Development Frameworks
Step 4: Deploy
Deployment in itself is pretty dull. Developers ship a thoroughly tested product to a production environment (public-facing servers) and upload mobile front ends to the App Store and Google Play if necessary.
One thing to note here is that you’ll need a working DevOps infrastructure at this step. The infra itself is ideally created during the development phase. That allows the dev team to push everything to customers seamlessly.
Step 5: Maintain
Finally, once your web application is live, you have to keep tabs on three areas:
- issues/bugs (a rare testing budget would cover all platforms/browsers/etc.)
- overall app stability (its uptime)
- areas for improvement, new features
- app usage patterns
There are plenty of valuable services to monitor all these KPIs. For example, we love using Sentry, Mixpanel, and a few AWS tools.
The bottom line is that you continue to work on the app once it’s released, almost with the same intensity (although maybe lighter on development per se).
And the DevOps environment that was established during the development phase plays a considerable role in the whole process. Put simply, with a correctly set up CI/CD infrastructure, your devs don’t need to spend time on manual, repetitive tasks and instead focus on polishing the app.
How to Determine the Cost of Medical Web Development?
Here’s a simple trick: find a team you trust, work through all the requirements and designs, get a fixed-price quote, come back for clarifications, then multiply that final cost by x1.5 or 2, depending on your risk tolerance.
Seriously though, pricing doesn’t work this way when you create a health website or web application. If you opt for creating a medical website with WordPress and a freelancer, the budget can fit within $10,000. If you need a fully custom app, the range will be between $60,000 and $90,000. For something more complicated involving a web dashboard and a mobile app, we are looking at $150,000 — $200,000. And if you want to build an enterprise-grade solution with lots of moving parts, be ready to spend $200,000 to $400,000.
Please note that we’re talking about MVPs here — a minimal viable product. It’s something you can launch to start onboarding paying customers to fund/justify further development.
Related: MVP App Development: Everything You Need to Know
At Topflight, we don’t offer fixed-price quotes. Instead, we analyze or help you prepare requirements and then plan how much time it will take to release the bare minimal MVP to start getting traction. Based on that and the required team composition, we can have some ballpark estimates. However, that’s not something written in stone because we run agile and opt for full transparency and flexibility to iterate on a scope depending on the market conditions and customer feedback.
Also Read: App Development Costs: How to Budget for your App
Topflight Experience in Web Development for Healthcare
Every single app we develop at Topflight involves some form of medical web development. I’d frankly struggle to explain how to make a medical website without touching cloud technologies. Here are a few examples:
ME & You
Solution: a nonprofit healthcare organization conducting research and advocating for a rare disease needed a patient registry and biobank to create an extensive global data set for research into the disease.
Why it’s web development: we built a symptom tracking mobile app for patients and a web-based registry for researchers and patients. Cloud technologies are used for storing medical data and syncing it with phones.
- 4,500+ participants enrolled
- COVID-19 control group set up
- Launched in the US and Australia
- 7/10 satisfaction rating of the mobile app
Solution: a cardiology practice upgraded its care delivery model with a remote patient monitoring platform to increase efficiency while adhering to the Medicare guidelines.
Why it’s web development: clinically certified medical sensors send patient data to the cloud, where doctors monitor it via a web portal. Data is backed up and processed in the cloud.
Achievements: MVP development landed multiple SaaS licenses, turning ROI positive upon launch.
Solution: an employee wellness platform helping businesses to increase staff engagement, build team camaraderie, and improve employee health.
Why it’s web development: a couple of web dashboards (including a content management module) and mobile apps sync health and other data via the cloud.
- mobile app improved from a 2-star rating to 4.6 stars
- 55% more positive reviews
- two mobile app awards, including Stevie Gold Winner
- acquired by
Frequently Asked Questions
What technology stack should I use to build a health website?
That depends on whether the app must support your existing software and hardware infrastructure. If it does, the choice of technology will depend on that. However, integration workarounds are usually possible — imagine building a data hub for transferring data between incompatible systems. If you have a CTO, let him talk through the tech stack that’s scalable and resilient; if you don’t, trust your dev team.
Does my app have to be HIPAA Compliant?
Yes, if users working with it have access to PHI.
Wouldn't my customers leave if my software is too open for external integrations? They'll just download their data and be on their way, won't they?
They will only leave if they don’t like your services. Healthcare businesses that still rely on their walled gardens, keeping patient data hostage, are living through their last days. The regulatory environment and whole digital healthcare ecosystem push them to genuine interoperability.
Wait, did you say I need web development even for a mobile healthcare app?
Yep. If your mobile app sync data to a server, then this server part (whatever that might be, for example, a back end with ML algorithms analyzing patient readings) implies web development efforts.
So, healthcare web development is not so much about developing a site for practice?
Yep, I thought health apps were dull when I joined Topflight about three years ago. As it turns out, there’s so much reactive happening in the medical industry it makes you go vertigo just keeping track of everything. And web technologies are the cornerstone of this digital revolution. Pat yourself on the shoulder if you’re thinking about making a healthcare web app; I mean that.