At a 1983 conference in Aspen, Steve Jobs gave a presentation where he predicted a kind of “digital record store” where people would download discreet software applications over telephone lines. This was 24 years before the first iPhone and 24 years before the App Store debuted with 500 apps. It was even 14 years before Snake, the addictive game that could be played on Nokia phones or discreetly during class on graphing calculators, ruined AP Calculus for a generation of students.
As of 2020, according to Forbes, those first 500 apps have ballooned to over 8.9 million apps. According to Grandview Research, the mobile app industry surpassed $154 billion in 2019 with an expected compound annual growth rate of 11.5% through 2027. According to App Annie, as of 2021 consumers spend an average of 4.2 hours a day on mobile apps.
We see the effect of the mobile app revolution in our daily lives. If we have a problem, one of our first instincts is to wonder if there’s an app that solves it. There usually is. If there isn’t, an entrepreneurial subset of the population wonders if they have stumbled on the next billion-dollar business idea.
The healthcare industry used to be exempt from app-mania, but that exemption is over. Consumers expect healthcare apps to work wonders that would have seemed impossible to the change-resistant medical and healthcare field. It’s time for every healthcare organization to get serious about their mobile app strategy so that they can prosper in a world of mobile madness.
Why Mobile App Strategy Matters for Healthcare Companies
The driving force pushing healthcare companies into the mobile arena is the explosion of interest in telehealth and telemedicine. Basically, it’s the death knell of the waiting room and forms on a clipboard, as if those didn’t already feel like anachronisms.
Telemedicine and telehealth involve the delivery of medical services remotely, via telephone or digital devices. The idea is simply this—much healthcare value can be delivered without an in-person hospital or clinical visit by the patient, drastically improving patient convenience and organizational efficiency.
Many healthcare processes don’t suffer at all for lack of in-person care. In fact, some healthcare processes, like the collection of biometric data and outpatient treatment adherence, can actually be enhanced by the use of remote-monitoring mobile applications.
According to US News and World Report, telemedicine was growing before 2020 but still only reached 4% of the market. The COVID-19 pandemic changed all that. In the face of mass lockdowns and restriction of non-emergency hospital visits, in-person treatment plunged 23% in March 2020, 52% in April 2020. Meanwhile, the popularity of telemedicine skyrocketed by over 1,000%.
Telemedicine is here to stay. Patients are awake to the fact that they don’t have to face a waiting room and a clipboard anymore to consume medical services. From Zoom doctor consults to mail-in biological sample testing kits, consumers now look for app solutions to medical problems, just like they do with every other category of problem.
Healthcare organizations that rush to meet that demand will enjoy a substantial competitive advantage. Organizations that drag their feet will get left in the mobile dust.
Here are seven steps healthcare companies can take right now to start building their mobile app strategy for 2021:
Step 1: Define Your Healthcare Mobile App Business Goals
The first step to designing your healthcare mobile app strategy for 2021 is defining the mobile app's business goals. What role will the app play in your organization?
Is the goal to recreate one or more of your current services as a digital experience? Add new services so you don’t lose current patients to competitors? Bring a whole new concept in mobile healthcare to the market and disrupt the entire industry? Or just help you do what you already do better?
There’s no wrong answer. Your app will ultimately serve your customers and your organization, not the other way around. An app is a tool. Make sure you understand the job to be done, so you can pick (or in this case, create) the right tool.
Step 2: Understand Your Users and Your Competition
Mobile apps succeed or fail based on their ability to connect to a target user base. Why invest time and money in developing a mobile app that no one wants?
Conduct surveys—online or with your current patients—to identify pain points and determine if the problem your app solves is really worth solving. Create a “user persona”—the dream user who can’t resist your app's value proposition. What is their age? Sex? Occupation? Hobbies? What medical issues do they struggle with? This user persona will help you with targeted marketing in the future and help you understand who you are building an app for.
Check out the competitive landscape, as well. Users have to not only accept an app as a solution—they have to select your app as a competitor. Is there already a popular app that offers the same solution? How can you make yours better or more calibrated to your patients’ needs? Why would a user choose your app over a competitor’s? Get realistic and consult experts.
Step 3: Find a Development Partner for Your Mobile Healthcare App
Most healthcare organizations don’t have the in-depth development team necessary to create a world-class mobile app. You will most likely partner with a third-party development agency to do the lion’s share of the work.
First and foremost, look for a mobile app developer with experience and a track record of success in the healthcare field. Healthcare apps may face stiff regulatory burdens like HIPAA. Successful compliance may require an experienced hand.
If possible, find a development partner who has developed successful apps for similar organizations to your own. They will have first-hand knowledge of what works in your niche and what kinds of apps resonate with your target market.
Step 4: Validate Your Mobile App Concept
Before you commit the resources to a mobile strategy, do your research. Make sure the app you envision has a warm market of customers interested in using it once you bring the app to market.
Test the market for your app through a variety of methods. Use keyword research tools to determine how many people are searching for a solution to the problem you propose to solve. Read literature and talk to industry experts to determine whether or not your app idea fits with healthcare industry trends.
A pre-launch “sale,” where interested consumers can sign up to be beta users is imperative to the overall success and acceptance level of the app. The goal is to validate “product-market fit”—essentially, to have sold the product before you even create it. This takes much of the risk out of the development investment. Your development partner can help you with this process.
Step 5: Determine Your MVP
In product development, MVP doesn’t refer to a baseball player. It’s the “minimum viable product.”
App developers often envision a digital tool that can do a million things. After all, we’re talking about software. The sky's the limit, right?
But if you wait until the app does everything it possibly can, it will never make it to market. That kind of “forever” development lifecycle can bankrupt an agency. The goal of the MVP stage is to get the app into the hands of users as fast as humanly possible. For your MVP, strip the concept down to the bare essentials. What is the minimum number of features and functions your app can perform for it to fulfill the business proposition you defined in Step 1?
Your first iteration of the app—the “minimum viable product”—will fulfill only these essential functions. New features and upgrades can always be added later.
Step 6: Design and Build Your Mobile App
Now that you have determined the business value of the app, defined your ideal user, surveyed the competition, chosen a development partner, validated product-market fit, and sketched out the MVP, it’s time to start designing and building the app.
Your development partner will shoulder the majority of the technical and strategic burden at this phase, but a good development partner will actively engage you to maintain stakeholder buy-in and approval at every phase of the process.
Pay particular attention to the “UI/UX” phase of design and development. UI stands for “user interface,” UX for “user experience. You may not be a professional computer scientist, but you can determine if a proposed UI/UX is unattractive, unintuitive, or hard to use.
Another important phase of the development process is testing—both user acceptance testing and security testing. User acceptance testing will give you early feedback on how users like your app. Exhaustive security testing will be required for quality assurance and regulatory compliance.
Step 7: Implement Analytics and Deploy Your App
The phase where your MVP becomes available to users is called deployment. Make sure you have analytics in place before deployment so you can track app metrics—user behavior, session time, time on each page, etc.
The metrics observed by analytics will help you identify problem areas to fix and new features to add to improve upon your MVP. Your development partner can assist with deployment and analytics.
Mobile app development is never really “done.” Your healthcare app will pass through multiple iterations, getting better every time. But this mobile app strategy will help you get into the game of mobile healthcare—a game that in 2021 is definitely worth playing, and playing to win.