The Top 5 Reasons Why Medical Apps Fail

2937869-female-doctor-with-mobile-phone-in-white-backgroundThe medical app market is booming with apps for improving your health, apps to measure heart rates, even apps to help surgeons operate.

David Lee Scher MD, in MedPage Today’s Blog, says the momentum isn’t expected to stop. There are an estimated 15,00 medicals apps on the market and this is expected to grow 25% each year. But while the number of health apps launched is growing, most of these apps fail. Here’s 5 reasons why mobile health apps fail, according to Scher:

1. The motivation for the app development is misguided. Regardless of the elegance, ease of use, enjoyable experience, or other appeal of a health app, if it does not address a specific problem, it will not be considered useful and subsequently not adhered to.  Just monitoring a physiologic parameter, a person’s mood, or collecting data because an app is able to do so is a recipe for failure. People searching for health apps (and health information in general) are likely doing it because of a health problem. Data must be collected and filtered in a way that it translates a message to the end-user, whether that be a patient or clinician.

2. Lack of clinician involvement.  I am not saying here that clinicians need to be CEOs of mHealth companies.  What I am alluding to is the lack of clinicians’ input at all in the development of many of the technologies.   Technologies do not operate in a vacuum.  There are processes that the technology fits into which might very well need to be totally redesigned around the technology (this is a good thing, for many processes need changed).  These processes may range from someone’s personal schedule to instituting hospital case managers who advise patients on mobile apps. The app cannot be dropped on the lap of a CIO or clinician and be expected to be successful.  Connectivity of mHealth tools will be an important aspect of stage 3 of Meaningful Use adoption.This connectivity will necessitate workflow of data and messaging between patient and clinician.  It is imperative, therefore, to have clinician input into the design of the technology.

3. Poor attention to usability.  Achieving the final construction of an app must include an in-depth consideration of the experience a user with the need for the app has. According to a guide to evaluating usability of medical apps by HIMSS, usability may be defined as “the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specific users can achieve a specific set of tasks in a particular environment.”  I chaired a session at the most recent mHealth Summit on the topic of “What goes into making an extraordinary mHealth app?” which can be found at the bottom of this link. There are great presentations discussing app design and user experience.

4. Not knowing the healthcare landscape. Knowing the healthcare landscape is critical to determining a strategy of adoption. What are the available technologies that address this app’s goal? How can this improve or add to them?  Can the technology be used by multiple stakeholders? Might it be best to partner with another company to distribute or co-market my tool? Is my technology more valuable when incorporated into another offering (partnering with another technology)? Is this tool something the payer, provider, or patient would use/purchase (which provides the best/easiest path to sale/adoption)?

5. Not building to regulatory specifications. It doesn’t matter how much wow factor the app has, if it doesn’t meet regulatory requirements [re: security, HIPAA, FDA (if necessary)], it will need to be reworked as a significant cost. New proposed regulations regarding handling of data from apps might affect development as well and these should be followed in the news closely. Of course the FDA final guidance document is anxiously being awaited.  Aside from regulations, developers might want to look at Happtique’s draft standards for their app certification program.  The final standards are forthcoming.”

Scher’s third point – the need for a strong usability focus – is a big one. With countless health apps available, having an intuitive and usable product is critical. By utilizing real world usability testing tools and a dedicated UX expert, you can ensure users will respond well to your app (and avoid failure).

Security concerns are also a big part of developing a successful medical app. If your healthcare app is vulnerable to attacks, your users’ data will likely be compromised. This makes utilizing white-hat security testers to probe your medical app for common vulnerabilities that much more of an important step both before and after development. With the right expertise and in-the-wild testing your app can avoid the common pitfalls that so many medical apps overlook.