Do I need an app for that?There is plenty of evidence that patients and healthcare professionals are using smartphones as an extension of their desktops, downloading and using apps that solve problems and provide information.
 
Understandably, many healthcare organisations have been jumping on the app bandwagon and rushing headlong into launching their own app. Even the NHS recently launched its own Health Apps Library with the aim of making it easier for people to find safe and trusted apps to help them manage their health. But not everyone can thrive in a crowded market – with over 40,000 medical apps available globally many simply languish, with little or no downloads. 
 
So, if you’re considering developing an app for your brand or client, how can you ensure it generates a positive return on your investment? Here are a few tips and questions for you to consider when it comes to developing your own mobile app strategy.

Get back to basics before you start your app project

The key to the creation of any successful digital asset is to start with the end user in mind. What problem might the app help to solve, above and beyond what your website can do? Is it about trying to give a patient a tool that they can easily carry around with them, that will help them to manage their condition more effectively? 
 
The end-user need not necessarily be external. There are organisations developing apps only made available for download by internal staff members. Apps like these may help to streamline a particular business process or make it easier for a sales rep to access a digital copy of the company’s product catalogue when they can’t access the Web. By considering the types of problems an app can solve and the business benefits it can bring, you are more likely to create an asset that is going to be of commercial value and one that generates a positive ROI. 
 
As with any new digital asset the more research you do during the planning stage, to find out what features and functionality end-users would really value, the more likely you are to build something that will get used and shared amongst friends and colleagues. 

Do I need to build several versions of my app?

With so many different mobile platforms and screen sizes on offer to smartphone users these days, how do you go about developing an app that will work properly on each device?
 
How you build your app depends on the nature of your App and what ‘native’ functionality you want to include within it. At present there are four main mobile operating systems: 
  • iOS (used only by Apple devices such as the iPhone and iPad)
  • Android (an open source platform backed by Google)
  • Blackberry (used only by Blackberry devices) 
  • Microsoft (Microsoft’s own platform)
Wanting your app to work on all four platforms does not necessarily mean that you need to build four separate versions of the app. Depending on the app’s purpose you may be able to build a web or hybrid app. 
 
Web and hybrid apps built using HTML5 work on a range of devices and platforms, although they may need their design tailored to fit different screen sizes. Despite this, costs can still be significantly lower than having to develop the entire app from scratch for each platform. However, there will be occasions where building a specific native version of the app will be your best option, for instance when you want to make best use of the device’s camera or accelerometer.
 
DO I NEED AN APP FOR THAT: Inforgraphic
Click to view inforgraphic   (© Genetic Digital)

Would a mobile website be better?

If the criteria for building an app don’t apply to your project, it may be that you don’t even need an app and should consider developing a mobile website. In the past mobile websites, often just cut down versions of a “main” website don't have the best reputation and were often limited in functionality, slow and difficult to use. Luckily, however, mobile web design has progressed and rather than building and managing multiple versions of your website you can used responsive web design techniques and media queries to build a single version so it will adapt to the device viewport it's being viewed on. This has the additional advantage of future-proofing for new devices and different screen resolutions.

Will my app need to comply with any regulations?

Although apps are not yet fully regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) it’s only a matter of time until this will become necessary, at least for certain types of apps. As an example, if the application is intended to carry out calculations, enhancements or interpretations of entered/captured patient data, they consider that it will be a medical device .  Only after a product meets the definition of a medical device does it get classified according to risk and the risk classification then determines the compliance requirements. More more information about this, visit Genetic Digital’s guide and the MHRA FAQ
 
Both the MHRA and ABPI Code of Practice need to be considered when using digital assets in the public domain. No hard and fast guidelines have been set by the ABPI but a common sense approach should be taken to app development bearing in mind current ABPI Code guidelines for web development.
 

About the author

Damon LightlyDamon Lightley is the managing director of Genetic Digital, a Buckinghamshire-based agency working with healthcare, medical and pharmaceutical organisations on an array of digital technology and marketing projects. Damon has been involved in digital marketing since 1996 and is particularly interested in how the healthcare sector is responding and adapting to the increasing popularity and availability of new technological innovations, such as tablets and smartphones.

Follow @GeneticDigital on Twitter or visit their website.