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How to Develop mHealth Apps that Patients will Use

using-mhealth-appsSteady 25 percent growth for the foreseeable future… that’s what industry experts predicted for the mHealth app market in 2013. In today’s smartphone-saturated, consumer-driven health care market, the demand for mHealth apps comes as no surprise, but health care organizations must proceed with caution.

Concerns about HIPAA compliance — especially after recent hacking scandals — means that developing apps without an official development checklist could open the door to risk. What’s more, with in excess of 43,000 purported mHealth apps already available, simply catching the attention of consumers is a challenge.

Developers hoping to create the “Candy Crush Saga” of mHealth apps must consider a number of criteria to reach — and motivate use — among the widest cross-section of a patient population.

Tips for Apps Your Patients Will Tap

In a recent mHealth News blog, Dr. Natalie Hodge and Brandi Harless — the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Executive Officer of Personal Medicine Plus, respectively — teamed up to explore how health care providers can create mHealth apps for patients with a reach beyond the “quantified-self, early adopter with low BMI, disposable income and internal motivation for a healthy lifestyle.”

To be truly successful, apps must target and attract a wider range of consumers, including low-income, Medicaid patients. What’s the secret? Here are some factors to consider when developing mHealth apps for patients:

1. How do you get your app to the right audience?

If you are targeting consumers that are less likely to adopt apps due to age, income or other characteristics, it is critical to have deep insights into their attitudes towards health and wellness to motivate behaviors. mHealth app development also requires employing the right communication vehicles preferred by your target audience to drive awareness of your offering.

2. What’s the preferred platform?

While the iPhone makes headlines, statistics show that the Android platform has more users and continues to grow, in part because there are more affordable smartphone options on that platform. Before mHealth app development even begins, health care providers need to identify the mobile platform used by the majority of the intended audience.

3. How will you manage patient onboarding?

Health care providers must address barriers that hamper the downloading of an app. Does the patient need a credit card to purchase the app? How easy is it to navigate to the app marketplace, find and download the app? Oschner Health System decided to tackle this challenge with the O Bar, a resource for patients where they can get tech support choosing, installing and using mHealth apps.

4. What will your app cost?

When launching their own app, Personal Medicine Plus found that the $4.99 price point did better than a free download. Apparently, the perceived value of a physician-created app played into patients’ willingness to “pay to play.” 

5. How will you collect feedback?

Feedback is critical — both from the physician and the patient perspective. One of the great features of mobile apps is that once they are installed, the process for updating them is simple, even automatic. That means your app can be improved based on user input to increase adoption. Make sure that you build a feedback mechanism into the app, but also invite users to provide feedback in other ways, as tapping a detailed message on a smartphone keyboard can be frustrating for even the most dedicated user.

Empowering Patients and Providers

In 2013, the number of Americans who relied on their mobile devices for health information or as tools for fitness and health rose to 95 million, an increase of 27 percent over the previous year. That’s a huge opportunity for health care providers who want to positively impact population health.

With the much-anticipated launches of health platforms in recent months and the growing number of fitness tracking devices hitting the retail market, it’s clear that consumer-driven health care will continue to make digital health solutions a priority. 

To make the most of this trend, hospitals and other care providers should be developing mHealth apps for patients that address consumers’ content, interface and sustained engagement needs.

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