How to create health care apps that people love

It’s more complicated to create an engaging app than many business managers expect. Especially in health care, one of the most complex industries. There are often different, opposing forces at work that make the task more challenging.

Your odds of an excellent outcome increase significantly if you keep one word in mind: prioritization.

In other words, deeply understanding a user’s priorities based on a changing context makes all the difference. What’s important enough to motivate a user to launch your app and to do so regularly? Does your approach make the user’s life easier, or does your interface baffle and confuse them?

You can think about the right prioritization at various levels:

What are the user’s priorities when using the app and how do they change based on the context of use? For example, a patient’s priorities would be different before a medical procedure than after recovery.

What information has the highest priority to the user at any given stage within the app? The first time someone uses an app to monitor their body mass index, the label “BMI” might have as much importance as the result, say 32 (moderately obese). But once the user gets used to the app, the reading needs to be much bigger than the label, if the label exists at all.

What are the differences in priorities between the users and the sponsors (i.e., funders) of an app? To illustrate this point, I’ll tell you a story.

Many of our clients are administrators within health care organizations, and one of their key priorities is productivity. There are good reasons for this: they don’t want patients to endure lengthy wait times, they need to manage operational costs, and seek to amortize fixed costs of expensive medical equipment.

But the users of many hospital apps are physicians, and their priority is quality. They want to know how their patients are doing, whether recovery is on track, and to be alerted immediately if there is a problem.

Too often, health care app developers fail to reconcile these different priorities in advance, and thus they build apps that no one uses. Before you start building an app, you need to strike a healthy balance among these potentially conflicting priorities.

For example, your app can identify and provide key metrics that are important to physicians; this will spur physician adoption and use. You can use timely push notifications for productivity alerts that can address key concerns of administrators. One possibility is to alert in real-time when a physician’s schedule falls behind a certain productivity threshold (e.g. waiting time has exceeded 45 minutes). This doesn’t require a lengthy report or a separate interface; a simple prod is enough – doing so is also more respectful of the user.

In app development, simple details make a big difference and managing them helps you prioritize the right information. Instead of adding screen after screen to signify problem areas, you can simply change the color of the data to red (e.g., a high BP of 140/100) at the right time, or provide haptic feedback when a finger touches the information.

In app development, all information is not created equal.

Praveen Suthrum is president and co-founder, NextServices and blogs at redo | healthcare.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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