Doctor showing a patient the screen of a tablet.
Doctor showing a patient the screen of a tablet.
Doctor showing a patient the screen of a tablet.
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Dec 5

Thrillworks

Dec 5, 2023

What makes a successful healthcare app?

Almost everybody has downloaded a health-related app at some point. The sector had a mini boom during the pandemic and saw a 25% expansion. This looks set to continue; worth $8 billion in 2023, the healthcare apps market is set to hit $36.7 billion in the next five years.

The three main drivers for this market growth are:

  • Continuing mobile phone adoption globally 

  • Improved wearable medical devices for health and wellness monitoring 

  • Increased awareness of app technology for healthcare

The challenge, however, is developing an app that can keep users engaged and coming back. One study found that 53% of mHealth apps were uninstalled within 30 days of download (1) , which highlights how difficult the market can be to penetrate.

Assume you have hit upon a great healthcare idea and have done your research to get evidence that there will be demand for your app. Whether you are raising funds or already have funding, you have to be thinking about next steps and what you need to succeed. Working with a medical apps development partner like Thrillworks can help you develop essential building blocks for the future.

With that in mind, let's take a look at seven features of successful healthcare app:

  • Quality

  • Trust

  • Data

  • Choices

  • Rewards

  • Technology 

  • Regulation

Let’s walk through these in some more detail: 

Quality: a good app offers a good user experience
One of the biggest obstacles to long-term adoption lies in user satisfaction, which is why the most successful healthcare apps put a focus on creating and delivering great user experiences.  If you are designing a patient app that follows tried and true design principles, then you won’t lose users on account of a shoddy experience or clunky user interface (UX/UI). 

Trust: gain your users’ trust to expand into omnichannel
Your users won’t be on the app most of the time, but they will be online throughout the day. If you build enough trust, you can leverage notifications to increase reach. More importantly, you can use a range of channels to connect with your users, including social media, email, and notifications. But this only works if they trust you. If you bombard users with content and information that is irrelevant or unhelpful, they will simply delete the app.  

Data: leverage data to address user needs
To sustain user engagement, healthcare apps must deliver actionable value, addressing user needs effectively. When reporting issues to the user, the app needs to give advice that is helpful, relevant, and something the user can realistically do. Being told, “You are overweight; go to the gym more,” clearly does not require an app. Subtler advice, which might on the surface appear to be supportive (such as increasing the number of steps somebody walks that day), could also be too reductive or unhelpful, depending on the user’s circumstances. Tapping into user data, such as content interactions, usage patterns, and preferred features can help you curate information, treatment options, and advice. 

Choices: give choices and support the decision
Patients want choices; why else do restaurants provide menus? However, there may be a dozen options for a user at any time that can contribute to health improvements – and we're not very good at comparing detailed differences. Solid, useful apps can do the underlying math, providing relevant choices in an easy-to-follow way, which is an immediate win for the user. They also make a point of empowering users with the ability to tailor the app to their preferences and requirements. 

Rewards: reward your user before they have to put in any work
Creating an effective rewards program can be one of the hardest things to do for a healthcare app but the results are spectacular when done right. Imagine getting an A for an important exam that you don’t even have to sit for? Or finding a $100 bill on the sidewalk. Creating rewards for little to no effort is where digital excels. Great healthcare apps leverage their users’ data, behavior, and eyeballs to provide relevant rewards that users will appreciate: kids, for example, may want digital stickers, while adults may appreciate a free month once they complete certain actions (such as a referral). Some of the most successful apps have also leveraged gamification to incentivize behavior and to encourage healthy habits by rewarding goal setting and completion. 

Technology: go cloud and be scalable—even as an MVP
In the old days, say five years ago (!), we’d build a minimum viable product (MVP) with just enough tech to have the app working, but there would be a huge effort to rebuild the app with larger scale tech to go beyond the MVP. A prototype would be built with a hellish mess that constantly broke. These days, cloud native, SaaS, IaaS are ideal for the prototype, the MVP, and the final product evolution, simplifying and reducing the amount of coding and QA significantly. Plus, you have the correct architecture and solution to scale and update beyond the MVP. We are moving so fast into the low-code world that prototypes, MVPs, and full releases are starting to blur and overlap in terms of tech. 

Regulation: keep it simple—why take a regulated path?
If an app is associated with a clinical device, then it is subject to FDA approval, with no exceptions. Likewise, if it is part of a prescription drug regime. While there is tremendous value in building preventative health and wellness apps, which can help you avoid regulatory complexities, building something that solves real patient pain points and changes lives is completely worth it. Knowing whether your app will be regulated before you begin the build can help you to adequately plan. The best path is the one that will deliver the greatest impact, on time and on budget.   

Individually, these pieces are straightforward. Bringing them all together neatly without creating a bloated mess is where the art and science of your medical app come together. Be careful; adding features that users think they want can result in an app that they like less. Counterintuitive? Maybe. For some high-level thinking on this challenge, take a look at the book by Jeffrey Kluger: “Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Sim)” 

1. Mustafa, Abdulsalam Salihu, et al. “User Engagement and Abandonment of mHealth: A Cross-Sectional Survey.” Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), U.S. National Library of Medicine, 24 Jan. 2022, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8872344/. 

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