mHealth means health care via the mobile phone. A vague definition describing a big area, that, being still in its infancy, is believed to have great potential.
mHealth includes specialised hardware for medical purposes such as diabetes, heart monitoring and blood pressure as well as services like reminders for doctor’s appointments via SMS, public health information/alerts, health surveys, apps for doctors, apps for in-field training used by pharmaceuticals, wellness self-checks, remote diagnosis decision support apps, hospital management/administration, apps used in the field in developing countries and much much more.
So, what makes a mobile health service successful? Based on our experience from delivering mobile apps and services for the health sector for almost 5 years and speaking to our partners we have come up with the following 5 key success factors:
1. The mobile service needs to solve a problem and have a clear strategy
Make sure that there is a clear need for the service/application that you are developing and that the service fulfills that need. Relevant market research and insights, participatory user experience design, pilots and quick response to user feedback once the service has been launched are all key to success.
2. The app or service needs to be extremely easy to use
Nice animations, flashy colors and a beautiful layout for sure inspires usage, but more important is that the service is easy for the target audience to use. This includes making sure that navigation flows are logic, buttons are big enough to click on for people with any finger sizes, text is readable for users that lack 20/20 vision and that you can easily start over or go back if you get lost in the service without having to resubmit several pages of forms again.
3. The service needs to be available to a majority of the target audience and not just e.g. iPhone or iPad users
This is usually were the biggest mistakes are done. Developers and tech people seem to think that everyone has an iPhone. This might be sort of true if the target group are medical students or doctors in a first world country, but not if you are targeting a wider audience. mHealth goes far beyond mobile apps and can also be delivered using SMS, MMS, mobile websites, bluetooth and NFC.
A good example of how apps are usually limited to one platform is available here.
4. The service must be secure and reliable
According to some reports as many as 80% of all iPhone apps crash after 5 min use. They are usually poorly developed and tested by developers with limited experience. For medical purposes reliability is a prerequisite. Make sure that the app or services has been properly tested across all devices that you expect the target audience to be using.
The service also needs to be absolutely secure in case it stores or communicates patient data. This includes encryption of data in communication between the device and the server, encryption of data stored locally on the device and that the servers are bullet proof in terms of external access to any data.
5. Legal, compliance and regulatory approvals
When you plan for the launch of a mobile health service make sure that you include the time for approval by all stakeholders. Worst case you might even require regulatory approval by e.g. the FCC.
DMI has been delivering mHealth services in partnership with specialised businesses in this area for the past 5 years including tools to help people quit smoking, educational apps, health surveys, training of physicians, self-care applications and more with clients including Novartis, Unicef and GSK.