Innovative technologies in healthcare software development: what do users expect from your mhealth app?

Healthcare is one of the world’s largest markets. It increases by 5.4% annually and is going to exceed $10 trillion by 2022. Two global trends - aging and population growth - are driving the industry forward.

At the same time, the mass adoption of smartphones makes healthcare less conservative in terms of the patient-physician relationship and service availability. Instead of visiting a doctor every time they need advice, people can download a specific app to get online consultations for their issues. And this is only one example of how mobile health technology is transforming the medical sector worldwide.

What is mHealth, eHealth and telehealth?

Mobile health or mHealth is a subdivision of eHealth, also called digital health. While eHealth encompasses all healthcare services provided via the Internet, mHealth refers to medical care supported by smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices.

Speaking of digital care, we can’t omit the older concept of telehealth that embraces health-related services distributed via existing telecommunication channels. The first telehealth systems appeared back in the 1960s, when NASA faced the necessity to monitor astronauts’ vital signs. Yet for a long time, the technology remained too expensive and featured too many flaws to enter mainstream healthcare.

Over the last few years, the popularity of remote medical care has been rising steeply due to technological advances. The 2022 Hospital Vision Study reveals that:

  • 77% of patients feel positive about clinicians using mobile devices in their care.
  • 57% of patients currently use wearables to track health metrics.
  • 37% bring health monitoring device data to the hospital when preparing to stay.
  • 95% are willing to share electronic health data with hospital clinicians.
  • by 2022, 98% of hospitals plan to implement a mobile device policy.

Image credit: The Future of Healthcare: 2022 Hospital Vision Study

Image credit: The Future of Healthcare: 2022 Hospital Vision Study

According to Statista, by 2020, the mHealth app market will reach $46 billion, while the total digital health industry is expected to hit $206 billion. Based on other research, mHealth alone will exceed $102 billion by 2023, showing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29.3%. These figures reveal that mHealth is one of the fastest growing markets, which creates immense business opportunities.

Image credit: Statista.com (EHR/EMR stands for electronic health records / electronic medical records).

Image credit: Statista.com (EHR/EMR stands for electronic health records / electronic medical records).

How many mHealth apps are there?

There are over 325,000 mHealth applications in the large app stores, yet most of them fall into one of two categories. The largest one includes wellness apps, which support efforts of users to set well-being goals and monitor daily lifestyle changes. Focused on fitness, diets, and good habits, they target people who are striving to lead healthy lives.

The second category consists of so-called medical or condition management apps and it holds up to 40% of the market share. Designed for different audiences and health conditions, these applications cover one or more of the following use cases:

  • Patient-doctor collaboration
  • Electronic health records
  • Pill timers and medication reminders
  • Remote patient monitoring
  • Symptom checking
  • Chronic disease management
  • Filling prescriptions
  • Pregnancy tracking
  • Clinical record management
  • Health education

Which mHealth apps deserve more attention in terms of their popularity among consumers? Recent surveys have identified seven healthcare sectors which are most attractive for mHealth app developers:

  • Connection to doctor
  • Diabetes
  • Heart, circulation, blood
  • Medication
  • Healthy lifestyle / Fitness
  • Hospital efficiency
  • Mental health.

A.I. vs M.D. and other innovative trends in mHealth app development

No matter the type and purpose, mHealth solutions are becoming more sophisticated and efficient due to exploiting AI, blockchain, IoT, and other new technologies which greatly impact mHealth app development trends.

Artificial intelligence

What improves mHealth intelligence and makes medical apps smarter? Obviously, digital healthcare is fueled by AI systems, which have penetrated all key industries. Using machine learning algorithms, AI-based technologies help doctors to improve diagnostic accuracy and in some cases show better results than human experts.

Deep learning has already proved to be capable of classifying skin cancer and other skin conditions by analyzing clinical images. AI doctors reach the accuracy of 90% to 97% when diagnosing childhood illnesses, they successfully assist pulmonologists with an interpretation of respiratory symptoms, identify pneumonia by the sound of a cough and even diagnose rare genetic disorders applying facial recognition techniques.

Possibilities offered by AI are not limited to a faster and more precise diagnostics. MHealth apps use artificial intelligence for selecting the appropriate treatment, verifying medication compliance, managing electronic health records, and many other tasks. Besides that, 96% of pharma professionals hope that AI will accelerate drug discovery and development.

Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)

Internet of things (IoT) implies all computing devices with a wireless connection to a network and the ability to exchange data. Its subdivision, IoMT, contains only medical wearables and equipment which mostly monitor and measure vital signs such as heart rate, blood sugar level, skin temperature, blood pressure, etc.

It is expected that by 2020, the number of IoMT devices can hit 20 or even 30 billion. While these figures may seem fantastic, they fairly reflect the huge demand for available medical services. Intelligent scanners, sensors, lenses, vaporizers, and trackers enable remote diagnostics and care, give doctors valuable insights, and allow patients to take more control over their health. In essence, IoMT combined with appropriate AI software offers a better quality of healthcare for less.

Blockchain

Blockchain is another concept that has a huge impact on digital healthcare in general and on mobile health app development in particular. Though many people associate this technology solely with cryptocurrency, it can resolve a wide range of tasks.

In essence, blockchain is a string of information blocks or records, each containing up to 1 Mb of data. This distributed system doesn’t have an administrator - instead, every update must be verified by all computers on the blockchain network. Once vetted and added, a new record becomes available to any user yet nobody can modify or delete it.

For mHealth, blockchain offers a more effective and secure way to record, store and control endless medical-related information. The approach is already widely used by different healthcare projects which among other things aim at:

  • managing electronic health records
  • analyzing health data
  • improving care based on information about patients
  • adding compliance and governance within pharmaceutical supply chains
  • running healthcare data marketplaces
  • securing sensitive medical data
  • ensuring transparency and data reliability in clinical trials.

Image credit: Blog.andreacoravos.com

Image credit: Blog.andreacoravos.com

Chatbots

AI-based chatbots have already become an essential part of e-commerce and currently are actively adapting to healthcare needs. They are performing different routine functions, from answering general questions to sending medication reminders.

Though bots can’t replace real doctors, they have some advantages over human specialists, such as 24/7 availability and quick access to useful information. Typically, modern health bots ask patients simple questions, then make a possible diagnosis, give self-care advice and, in the end, help to book an appointment with a doctor. For example, the popular Babylon health chatbot uses deep learning to check symptoms and provide users with tailored personalized recommendations. It also enables talking to a live therapist who can prescribe drugs after a video appointment via your mobile.

Image credit: Babylonhealth.com

Image credit: Babylonhealth.com

Voice user interface (VUI)

A recent survey has found that one in three patients would rather speak than type when looking for health information. 71% of respondents use voice search on their phones at least once a day. Most times, they ask their devices about the nearest urgent care, a doctor’s location or a pharmacy selling prescription drugs. The research also shows that people would like to use voice to make an appointment with a therapist and to know the type of insurance a doctor accepts.

In the years to come, voice user interfaces enabling speech communication between patients and mHealth apps will be even more sought-after. Voice-based search guarantees an extra level of convenience and usability to disabled and elderly people. Besides that, it can serve as an additional source of information about the patient’s condition.

Are you subject to HIPAA rules?

You can hardly create a successful app without taking technology trends into account. But when it comes to mHealth projects, the most important thing you need to consider is the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). The document enacted in 1996 protects private healthcare data including medical records, billing, and health insurance details, or any other information that can be used to establish the identity of a patient.

Before anything else, you should determine if your project is subject to HIPAA regulations at all. Start by answering the following questions:

  1. Does your app receive, store, or transmit protected health information (PHI)?
  2. Do you offer services to covered entities (individuals or organizations who must comply with HIPAA)?

If you are going to launch a fitness or diet application for personal use, you don’t need to be HIPAA compliant as PHI doesn’t include metrics like weight, pulse, calories burned, or steps taken. This means that the majority of health-related apps on Google Play or App Store don’t fall under these regulations. But if you plan to sign an agreement and share information with covered entities such as doctors, clinics, nursing homes, and pharmacies, you must meet mHealth app development HIPAA requirements.

Here’s a shortlist of mHealth app features to ensure HIPAA compliance:

  • Access control. The HIPAA Privacy Rule gives patients the right to view their personal data whenever they want. No other people can access PHI without authorization.
  • Authentication. Your system must verify users who try to get access to PHI. The law gives you several options to implement security measures: biometrics, passwords, physical objects (a key or magnetic card), personal identification numbers (PINs).
  • Encryption. When you store or transmit PHI, it must be encrypted, so that information remains unreadable and unusable in case of a breach or leakage.
  • Data backup. It’s essential to make daily backups of sensitive data and store copies of PHI in secure locations.
  • Audit controls. To prevent malpractice, your app should monitor who views, updates and modifies PHI, and when.
  • Automatic logoff. Your app should automatically end a session after a particular period of inactivity.

Even if you are absolutely sure that HIPAA rules in no way apply to your solution, it may be subject to other laws such as the US Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. To clear things up, we recommend using Mobile Health Apps Interactive Tool launched by the Federal Trade Commission.

Best examples of mHealth apps

Among thousands of medical and wellness solutions, we have chosen three projects to illustrate how mHealth changes the way doctors make decisions and people take care of their health.

Doctor on Demand

Launched in 2013, a US-based healthcare service uses both Android and iOS platforms to connect patients with licensed doctors via video calls. After logging into the app, patients enter their symptoms, medical history and information about allergies. Then, the system randomly selects a physician who can address the issue for a video chat. Doctor on Demand focuses on urgent care, emotional support, preventive healthcare and managing chronic conditions.

Image credit: Thenextweb.com

Image credit: Thenextweb.com

MDCalc

The app for physicians, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, and medical students gives access to 275+ clinical decision tools such as risk scores, dosing calculators, medical algorithms and formulas, classifications, etc. Android and iOS versions of MDCalc have over a million monthly users from 190+ countries.

Image credit: Mdcalc.com

Image credit: Mdcalc.com

Esquared Fitness

Launched in London and Sydney, this on-demand fitness app allows users to find and book available fitness classes and gym sessions nearby. The platform offers you the selection of workouts and ability to pay for them on the same day or any time within the next 30 days. The app is free to download both on iPhone and Android, with no membership fees or monthly contracts.

Image credit: Esq2.com

Image credit: Esq2.com

Let’s make people healthier and thus happier

Health will always remain a primary public concern, but especially among older people. With the number of seniors constantly growing, the demand for medical services is increasing dramatically, entailing higher care costs and heavier workloads for doctors. MHealth as a subdivision of digital healthcare offers a unique and effective solution to this global challenge.

The use cases of smartphones in healthcare are endless, and though the market seems to abound with health-related apps, there will always be empty niches to fill. If you already have a creative idea, just let us know and we will help you build an innovative mobile project meeting both client expectations and legal requirements.

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