In the Pharma and Life Sciences sector, mobile applications have the potential to unlock efficiencies, increase revenue streams and drive engagement. But achieving success with a mobile app requires an end-to-end strategy that begins at ideation and extends all the way through the support lifecycle, taking into consideration everything from measurement strategy to industry compliance and UX best practices.
Why Your Organization Should Consider Mobile App Solutions
Organizations across the Pharma and Life Sciences sector are looking for ways to leverage mobile applications. The promise of more patient engagement is one key driver. A survey by NEJM Catalyst, for example, found that 60 percent of healthcare professionals and industry leaders “believe effective patient engagement makes a serious impact on the quality of care, and can substantially decrease the costs in the system.” Mobile apps are a primary means for fostering more patient engagement.
There are plenty of other motivations for leveraging mobile apps. Organizations are using them to enable seamless data sharing and collaboration, to improve efficiency and to generate cost savings.
And yet: designing and developing a mobile app in this industry brings with it unique challenges that can derail the most sophisticated organizations. Regulations, information silos, and antiquated, localized systems mean that outside expertise is often needed to successfully span the entire development lifecycle.
10 Critical Considerations When Building Health-Related Mobile Apps
Below, we offer ten critical considerations for developing a successful mobile application in the Pharma and Life Sciences sector. Perhaps your organization will soon be embarking on a new mobile app development project. Perhaps your organization is fully immersed in a project now. Either way, it’s not too late to become more strategic about the digital product you are building or hope to build.
1. Clearly define (and, if needed, redefine) the intended use for the mobile app.
When you’re developing a health app, defining the intended use will provide support for the product strategy. Knowing and continually redefining the intended use for the app is also critical for the stages that follow. For example, defining the intended use will support the potential Software as a Medical Device (SaMD) classification process in a later development phase.
2. Link desired user outcome(s) to a business value.
Let’s say your mobile app will help patients book appointments. Defining potential outcomes like “saving patients’ time” and “saving the organization money” will help you assign a business value to each outcome. If you can link each of your outcomes to a business value, then it will be easier to engage stakeholders to support investment for the development of the app.
3. Know how the app’s intended use will introduce constraints and clinical risks.
The Healthcare and Life Sciences industry is one of the most regulated industries globally. Depending on where your app falls within the spectrum of intended use, your organization needs to weigh potential regulatory constraints and clinical risks associated with the intended use. For example, an app that recommends dosage amounts could inadvertently cause someone to overdose if language and guidance is not crystal clear. Be sure your organization’s app is fully compliant and adheres with Good Practice (GxP) Guidelines.
4. Prototype early designs with healthcare professionals and patients.
If you’re building an app for a target disease group, consult with relevant patient groups and ask what they would find helpful in the application. Or if you’re developing an app for clinicians or healthcare professionals, seek their input about what features and design would be most beneficial to them. Too many projects have been developed without collecting quality target user group feedback. A good indicator as to the value of your app is to ask the target user group if they would pay for the app. When someone is willing to pay for an app, you can be sure they find intrinsic value in the product.
5. Apply Human Factors Principles in User Experience (UX) design
The goal of human factors engineering, usability, and user experience activities is the same: To release a product that meets users’ needs in a safe, effective, straightforward, and delightful way. Traditionally, the healthcare industry has not always valued UX best practices followed in other industries, like eCommerce or Automotive. These sectors put a lot of emphasis on exceeding customer expectations.
Apps in the healthcare industry, meanwhile, have sometimes been satisfied with fulfilling an outcome without investing much analysis in how that outcome is fulfilled. If your organization can create an elevated user experience that exceeds expectations, your intended users will be far more likely to return to the app.
A well thought-out mobile application will offer a seamless user experience. The functionalities and content will be in line with your target audience. And the end product will provide a superior quality customer service. Keep in mind: If you are unable to deliver a quality mobile application, it may harm your brand image.
6. Ensure your app will integrate within Electronic Health Records (EHR).
When the data in your mobile app can be integrated with an Electronic Health Record (EHR) system, the patient’s health record will itself be enriched through using your app. Integrating your app within the healthcare ecosystem will also benefit the physician and aid in their design of a tailored treatment plan. The wider it can be connected into health ecosystems, the more valuable it will become. At DMI, we have developed applications that expanded beyond their initial focus to integrate into electronic health records systems. One of the emerging Global interoperability standards is Health Language 7 (HL7), which – when used – can integrate data from apps and systems previously siloed at specific locations. Fast Health Interoperability Resources (FHIR) builds on previous standards, including HL7 CDA, V2, and V3, and is easier to use since it covers a broader range of technologies. It is now easier than ever before to share data from a patient to a physician to a specialist when all are connected to the same ecosystem and using the same interoperability standards.
7. Stay ahead of the curve with the next generation of emerging digital health technologies.
Build your app in such a way that new advances in AI/ML, VR and AR, and Blockchain can be integrated when the time is right. Blockchain, for example, is destined to be useful for ensuring tamperproof recordkeeping, consent management, fraud prevention and data security. VR will eventually be used for clinician training, physical therapy and more. The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) has vast benefits it can provide for remote patient monitoring, self-treatment and patient engagement. It’s important that your organization build your application within a strategic vision for future use cases.
8. Start using mobile app analytics to measure and improve user experience.
At DMI, we subscribe to the approach of building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), getting people to test it and provide feedback, and then iterating continuously to make improvements. Analytics are a critical part of that iteration process – whether it’s AB testing, heat maps or feature use tracking. User data should inform a digital product measurement strategy that guides the evolution of the digital product – sometimes to areas of improvement that were not even expected.
9. Healthcare Validation and Testing
It is important to validate and test your application before you launch. Testing ensures smooth, efficient interactions and high performance. When testing the mobile app, also consider language and text variables. Considerations for gender, age, and ethnicity are sometimes overlooked during the testing phase. Finally, make sure your testing accounts for multiple factors and types of users.
10. Invest in ongoing support maintenance to preserve the application’s longevity.
Continuous improvements to product and strategy rely on an ongoing excellence of delivery and service that keeps users in sync with the latest improvements.
DMI has consultants and developers who’ve worked with healthcare clients for the best part of 15 years. We know the sector and the challenges that Pharma and Life Sciences organizations face when developing a mobile application. Connect with our team to discuss your next mobile app development project.