Medical app development: 3 best practices

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Carried away by the scope of work or its complexity, mHealth developers can lose track or miss some valuable steps. Here are some tips from a medical app development company

Pre-project planning

A mobile health app project could be challenging and require careful preparation. The work involves three main steps:

Conducting a large-scale research

Before launching a project, you should assess the market and the dominant health IT trends. It also makes sense to study potential user needs and competitor offers. You could estimate how well top existing solutions solve user challenges. The identified weak points can serve as the basis for your project.

To finalize the research stage, you can conduct a thorough analysis based on three main factors: market size, potential competitors, and user needs.

Defining the target audience

Defining the target audience is critical to maximizing the app’s attractiveness to users. For this matter, you can consider creating a user persona. The concept unites demographic data, behavioral traits that guide users in decision-making, and challenges they face. 

Working on user personas, you can also consider the challenges users face. Then you can draft potential solutions your app can offer. In case there are several challenges the competitors’ tools solve, it is reasonable to range them by significance and select the most critical issues to address them first. 

Setting up a multi-faceted team

Apart from skilled developers, you can attract an established medical professional or key opinion leader (KOL). They will offer consulting and advice when needed, seamlessly integrating into the team.  

It is necessary to ensure respectful communication in the team. Mutual training sessions when tech experts educate doctors about some technologies and vice versa can help. This approach can build trust and respect and help the team solve upcoming project-related issues effectively.

Defining the project scope

Healthcare apps are feature intense, and the team may find it difficult to decide what to start with. Before the kick-off, product managers collect customer ideas, KOL considerations, and executive feedback. There are always many opinions about what and when to build. Being pulled in multiple directions can be confusing. Internal clashes about what to develop next can cloud your judgment. Feature prioritizing can help you define and focus on the most significant functionality.

First, you need to divide the planned features into primary and secondary. A questionnaire can help:

  • Does this feature solve the user’s most important problem?
  • Should this feature be kept as a premium for later monetization?
  • Does this feature support the original or future purpose?
  • Is this a nice-to-have feature or a killer feature?

This approach allows you to define the project scope, elaborate the design and build a working prototype. 

Security aspects

Medical app security and regulatory compliance could be a pain point for vendors. In this regard, the critical points to ensure are:

  1. The app security
  2. HIPAA compliance
  3. Cloud security
  4. API security

Medical app security

As for security testing per se, it usually involves two steps — scanning for vulnerabilities and penetration testing. To put it simply, security experts analyze the app to find weak links that malicious actors may exploit and then try to break in using the discovered loopholes.

The test ‘attacks’ are not dangerous and help providers improve app security timely, thus ensuring attack prevention. 

HIPAA compliance

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal legislation protecting personal health information. Is compliance a must for every healthcare app? 

At a glance, HIPAA compliance is obligatory for medical apps collecting, storing, or transmitting personal healthcare information (PHI) across the healthcare system. Moreover, such apps often contain other types of personal information – birthdates, zip codes, home addresses, and family members’ data. They can be used to identify a person via publicly available sources. Hence, it is better to ensure HIPAA compliance for any medical app requiring identification. 

Cloud security 

Although cloud solutions are considered highly secure, they have specific security threats worth considering. Some of the threats are service hijacking and side-channel attacks. 

For example, hackers might spread fraudulent messages via email to trick users into revealing their credentials. If they succeed, they get into the system and obtain PHI. However, if you use end-to-end encryption to protect sensitive data, the threat of data theft becomes lower. End-to-end encryption protects PHI at the endpoints. Hence, without deciphering, encrypted PHI is just a meaningless code.

API security

APIs widely used in mHealth apps are not immune to security threats. In 2021, Approov and Knight Ink, reputable cybersecurity providers, issued the All That We Let In report. The report looked into the security of mHealth apps. The team chose 30 popular apps for detailed analysis. All the apps’ APIs were vulnerable to Broken Object Level Authorization (BOLA) attacks. That attack leads to unauthorized access to complete patient records, including addresses, zip codes, and other personal information.

 

API authentication and authorization can shield APIs from malicious attacks. Authentication demonstrates who you are, and authorization proves you can access specific data. Besides, qualified penetration testing with regular static and dynamic code analysis is required. 

 

Final thoughts

Developing a mobile healthcare application is a complex task. There are many factors to consider, and it is easy to mess up. The to-do list includes:

  1. Smart preparation. This part involves extensive research based on three factors: market size, user challenges, and competitor analysis. The research can help the team identify the key audience.
  2. Defining the project scope. At this point, you need to divide the features you plan to implement into primary and secondary. This prevents the team from unnecessary multi-tasking and helps them stay focused.
  3. Ensuring the app’s security. This step covers the measures to ensure security. There are four focal points here: penetration testing and vulnerability scanning of the app, HIPAA compliance to protect PHI, and security testing of the cloud and the APIs. 

 

This comprehensive approach can help you facilitate the work on the project and protect the app and its constituents from malicious attacks in due time.



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