Blog: The challenges of creating healthcare applications

Healthcare is one of the most appealing industries for technological disruption. Machine Learning (ML) and Augmented Reality (AR) are two critical technologies that could overhaul the way that we interact with our doctors and significantly reduce the recovery time of patients. Unfortunately, more than 70% of modernization initiatives suffer delays or fail due to stringent data security requirements that help safeguard patient privacy. Challenges ranging from data security to legacy infrastructure may affect your will to build and launch a healthcare product. We’re here to outline the key obstacles that startup owners may face and the best way of handling them so that they don’t impede your development. With our vast experience in healthcare, we want you to use our knowledge to ensure that your app will succeed in the increasingly crowded marketplace.

Healthcare applications challenges

Healthcare software of today. Where do we go?

Healthcare is currently undergoing a radical shift thanks to a mixture of advanced technologies, consumer access, and an influx of data. Over 2,000 years ago, in Ancient Peru, healers performed the world’s first brain surgeries with primitive tools (https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/06/what-is-trepanation-skull-surgery-peru-inca-archaeology-science/). From that day we have continuously seen technological advances in the medical field, from the introduction of the X-Ray to the gene-editing of CRISPR all designed to make people’s lives more comfortable and less stressful. Every promising healthcare startup has its own view of how best to save lives. New apps, services, or merely an idea that’s going to improve doctor/patient interaction, are popping up every day. Both patients and clinicians are welcoming the rise of medically-focused startups and the influx of wearable and remote technologies for healthcare. In this article, we’ll draw you a picture of the challenges you’ll have to face and overcome before getting your initial user feedback.

Machine Learning opens new horizons for Healthcare

Machine Learning (ML) is one of the hottest IT topics today. Entrepreneurs are tossing and turning in their beds until they can figure out how to add a bit of Data Science to their products. Payers, service providers, clinics, and pharmaceutical companies are already taking advantage of Machine Learning.

The core principle of ML is that you feed your program with relevant data, and the learning algorithm starts its training. As you upload more and more data, from patient readings to EKG results, all the way to consumer healthcare apps, the system will learn and understand more about that particular patient. Your algorithm starts giving results, predictions, analysis of new data, based on its experience. Yes, the model needs control and retraining, but its effectiveness is only restricted by your Data Scientist’s skills and the hardware power. Eventually, patients will receive realistic forecasts for their treatment length. With more training, they’ll be able to predict results after each stage of treatment and best treatment options based on shifting lifestyle conditions. Machine Learning, used and trained correctly, can proactively chart a patient’s recovery progress for the doctor and adjust it on the fly.

ML and AR interaction

ML in conjunction with Augmented Reality (AR), for example, will allow patients to detect objects on the pharmacy shelves and be presented with the medical information and side effects right on their phone. It’s even possible to determine if the pill you’re taking, based on its shape, color, and appearance, is the right one for you. The opportunities are endless! At DB Best we know that this is just one of any number of apps that will appear in the market in only a few years. Don’t you want to be a part of that innovation?

Get ready to get to know HIPAA and GDPR up close!

The standards you’ll have to meet operating around the world are HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) for the US and GDPR (The EU General Data Protection Regulation). These are the laws protecting patient’s sensitive data. Every organization dealing with protected health information must take some physical, network, and process security steps. Subcontractors, as well as business associates, must comply as well. Both of the regulations directly impact the way you handle patient and other data, store it, and share it.

HIPAA and GDPR

HIPAA specifics

For HIPAA, there are two different types of classification. First is HIPAA for Individuals. HIPAA for Individuals empowers patients with access to their medical information and their right to privacy of their data. For health startups, it is a critical law that you have to understand to collect, store, or transmit any health data (called Protected Health Information, or PHI.) PHI includes any medical details, billing information, health insurance information, or any identifiable data. All health startup employees who will be handling patient data have to obtain a HIPAA Awareness training certification.

The second HIPAA category is Compliance for Organizations. It is about protecting the privacy and security of Protected Health Information that organizations access. Here you need to understand which regulations you have to comply with. It doesn’t matter if it’s HIPAA Privacy (safeguards for keeping protected health information safe from people, administrative, and contractual standpoint) or HIPAA Security (safeguards for maintaining protected health information specifically in an electronic form safe from disasters, hackers, and electronic theft). If you deal with electronic data, and you probably do, the second certification will be a must as well. The most precise info as for HIPAA accomplishment can be found here: https://www.hipaatraining.com/.

GDPR basics

GDPR covers all the above data security aspects for the EU and EEA and allows companies to abide by approved processes. Adhering to GDPR gives your app a much-needed element of legitimacy. Thanks to GDPR, users can share their sensitive data with businesses and organizations safely. Not abiding by GDPR can be costly. You’ll suffer numerous penalties and fines until you obtain the correct certification.

To accurately comply with GDPR, we recommend turning to numerous compliance assistance firms or deal with a compliance attorney who will be familiar with the regulation. In both cases, you’ll get a step-by-step guide of amendments required as well as a partner who can assist you with your unique requirements on your way to GDPR.

Capable of offline mode?

Any reputable medical solution needs to be able to perform offline as well as online. Access to medical information or connecting to medical IoT devices have to be able to continue even if the customer is on a flight without Wi-Fi, if they have poor internet service, or if cell towers crash due to a critical event such as a mass shooting or natural disaster. The two possible approaches to building a mobile app with an offline mode are either to come up with a local data storage or to go with a data synchronization option. The first way ensures your data to be stored directly on hardware, like a client’s device. It lets the updates stay safe until the moment the device reconnects with a server/cloud storage and makes the changes online.

The way we handled offline mode

The DB Best team’s experience with a complex solution, dedicated to time-sensitive medications uses, reinforced how critical a well-functioning offline mode was and how we could implement it. After much research, we turned to local data storage on the breathing device that the patient applies. Covering this aspect of data management, we proved our client’s app user-friendliness and reliability. Thus, the application continued to work despite poor Internet signal; time zones change, patients’ missed treatment sessions and more. In our case, all the complicated algorithms mentioned above are in Java and .Net Core for the backend. We suggest you pay close attention to the technologies you apply to build the app for any complicated online or offline operations.

Sync-up your data

As for data synchronization, which is a second option, it’s quite broad. The primary goal and the task developers face is to synchronize data between a central data source and all the local data storages. In case a company possesses a few replicas of data storages, they also need to be synchronized. In other words, it’s the process of maintaining the consistency and form of data instances between all the users’ applications and storages. This way the app is applying the same data version everywhere, for all the devices, local and cloud storages. When synchronization is built and executed correctly, the app works great when connected to the Internet and there is a seamless experience if the connection is lost.

Security should always be your TOP priority

healthcare applications security

Documentation within a healthcare project

We have a couple more things to underline before we finish. Firstly, there’s a strict approach to documentation for a healthcare project due to security protocols. Every minor step and change in software MUST be recorded on paper, previously approved by all levels. Such an approach minimizes the chance of inappropriate changes to impact a live system environment. As another aspect of security, we recommend you place significant restrictions in terms of the working environment and machines you use. All of your team members who are working on a commercial app should do so from a secure office. Your team has to make sure nobody can access their computer by chance. No walking with a laptop alongside a boardwalk, no code sharing with friends or family, no weekend movies in a country house with that same laptop. Sorry 🙁

Your app’s architecture

Another important aspect is the app’s architecture. The latest trends are all about microservices. So that all the system’s modules could operate independently, thus, be more safe and stable. But you should at least consider distributed computing (clusters), continuous integration practice in merging copies to avoid “integration hell” and unit testing within your development and maintenance process. This will ensure your app continues working correctly, while a separate module needs fixes. You’ll get real-time updates and will be able to keep the system healthy despite a high load.

Standardization of datasets

Data Standardization is our next attention point. Since your app is likely to pull a large amount of data from numerous sources, you have to bring that data into a Common Data Format. The transition takes place somewhere between the provider’s system and the receiver’s side or a target system. In a perfect world, all the data any app is receiving is structured and has the same unified format. In this case, all the datasets are recognized, and related ones are associated with each other. Since the world of healthcare is far from perfect, you won’t be able to skip this rule.

Head up higher and make a change with us!

To sum up, after you make sure the app idea is has a unique selling point, the key to success is to find a strong development team and follow cutting-edge technology trends. Following our advice, you have the chance to create a life-changing solution for hundreds of millions of people. Isn’t that amazing? ☺

BTW, believe it or not, healthcare still operates primarily on paper.  Less than 10 % of hospitals are utilizing digital records software. Isn’t that shocking? Perhaps you could do something about it?

DB Best apps development service

The DB Best team is capable of guiding you through all the phases of healthcare app development. We’ll start with a Concept and Design creation, and go through Prototyping, Development, Certifications Compliance, Distribution, Maintenance, and Support. You’ll have a full-cycle development partner that is well-experienced in the creation of complex healthcare solutions from scratch. Our clients have been with us for years and range from startups to the Enterprise. Here’s what one of our team members had to share.

Our main priority is to become better every second. If we had to describe our approach to interaction within our team, the words of Phil Jackson would be the best description: “The strength of each member is the team”.

Iryna G., Project Manager on the biggest DB Best healthcare project

Ready to start the development journey with DB Best? Contact us and get a consultation in no time!