What Users Look for in Healthcare Apps: Must-Have Features

11 May · 12 min read

What Users Look for in Healthcare Apps: Must-Have Features

Healthcare applications are becoming more popular every year. According to forecasts, the mHealth apps market’s value will grow to the $149 billion mark by 2028 — a 3x growth, compared to 2021. More people will use healthcare apps, and more developers would want to create them. 

One of the factors contributing to this growth is the necessity to adapt to COVID-19. The pandemic made businesses look for more digital solutions for remote care services, including on-demand healthcare, patient monitoring, and others. With digital health, people could get a preliminary diagnosis without exposing themselves and doctors to the virus; that understandably boosted the niche.

To engage and retain users successfully, digital health apps need to be well-researched and patient-centric, aimed at improving users’ health outcomes & integrated into the existing care ecosystem. Check out Diversido’s work to find out how different tech (like the Internet of Things, for instance) helps to achieve this goal. 

In this article, though, we’ll talk about different ways mHealth apps fail to get good results, discuss how to fix it, and review the most successful types of patient-facing apps in the industry.

Meeting Patients' Expectations: The Main Challenge

The most popular reason why healthcare apps fail is their poor patient engagement. 

Many apps just don’t meet the expectations of their users. That happens because of:

  • Lack of essential features (scheduling, health data collection).
  • Lack of user-friendly design (poor or too complex UX).
  • Lack of evidence (apps that claim to help with something but don't have clinical or user research to prove it does).
  • Lack of privacy (apps that sell patients’ data to third parties or are not secure).

Even with the pandemic impacting the rise of the industry, it was still a matter of necessity: often, the only option of receiving care people had is to connect with doctors online. The necessity is already fading away; people are vaccinated and can travel more or less freely, at least in America. The list above affects users’ decisions more now that they have a choice. 

Digital health companies must focus on building apps patients would choose, apps that are not a compromise. For that, it’s important to meet patients’ expectations.

Developing Patient-Focused Health App: Must-have Features Users Are Looking for

If you think that patients are very demanding nowadays, it is not true. They want more, but that doesn’t mean they want a lot. Three things they want to do with their mHealth apps are:  

  • Schedule and cancel appointments,
  • Request prescriptions,
  • Access their medical records easily.

Sounds pretty basic, right? However, only 11% of the hospital apps offer one of these features. What is even more interesting is that hospitals manage to engage only 2% of their patients to use mobile health apps. We collected the top 6 must-have features for modern healthcare applications for you to boost engagement.

Scheduling Appointment and Getting E-prescription

Calendar is a simple, yet very important part of mHealth apps — whether it’s an Uber-like solution for different clinics, or a custom-made app for hospitals, labs, or any other healthcare institutions. It makes life easier both for patients and doctors. Patients can get an appointment with one click and doctors can plan their workflow and re-organize it if a patient wants to schedule or re-schedule. That makes the care process smoother and reduces the cost of no-shows for clinical institutions. 

Installing the e-prescription feature is a bit harder because prescriptions are a part of PHIs — patients’ health information, protected by HIPAA, and meds are often reimbursed by patients’ insurance companies. But, with the right security architecture and e-signatures, e-prescription boosts patients’ satisfaction with medical services and the app a lot. 

The feature is especially beneficial if you’re developing an app for chronic conditions or mental illnesses — the treatments for them often require recurrent refills. When a person with depression doesn't have to make a trip to the hospital to renew a prescription for antidepressants, it’s always a win. 

Patient Data Management

Nowadays, various health APIs connect your app to patients' records in different EHRs. If users always have access to their health data, a lot of aspects of care get easier. They can show their medical history to their new doctors and save appointment time, receive lab tests and X-ray results as soon as they’re ready, etc. That improves doctor-patient communication a lot and increases the efficiency of care. 

Apart from that, with data management features, hospitals can reduce the cost of redoes for themselves and the cost of paying for the service for the second time for their clients. An example: often, hospitals lose test results that have already been received (software healthcare organizations use is still cumbersome and the patient data are fractured across multiple care departments) and patients have to do them again. With test results always on patients’ hands, that can be avoided. 

Telemedicine with Easy Access to Specialists

Telemedicine is a useful feature for both patients and doctors. Patients, sick and healthy, stay in the safety of their homes, as they don’t need to go to the hospital. They can have a call with a doctor at a time that suits both parties. Doctors’ work becomes safer, as they shouldn’t meet face-to-face with people who have viruses. Telemedicine apps gained popularity during the first several COVID-19 waves. 

Telemedicine apps are also a great opportunity for doctors to expand their geographical reach. Plus, they offer a way to get affordable care for underserved patients: those who usually don’t go to hospitals because it’s too expensive due to the cost of services and commute. 

Trackers and Self-Reporting Tools

This feature allows users to self-monitor their activities by recording all sorts of data about their health and well-being. Later users can analyze it to see if they achieve certain goals or improve health outcomes. For instance, if one has trouble with sleep, they could partially analyze various treatments’ efficiency (meditation, therapy, Melatonin) via sleep trackers. 

Self-reporting tools like mood charts and water intake records help similarly, but with more participation from users. They are usually implemented in sports and fitness apps, apps for mental health and general well-being. With self-reporting, users are more aware of what’s happening with their bodies and minds. They can see how changes in their routines — physical activities, dietary habits, etc. — transform their lives. 

Reminders for Treatment Adherence

The purpose of this feature is to remind people to do something they need to do. It is a useful and effective replacement for paper calendars or to-do lists. In mHealth apps, reminders often concern:

  • Medication
  • Appointments
  • Procedures

This feature is mostly used in apps where strict medical control is required — medication and treatment adherence impacts the efficiency of healthcare service a lot. Apart from that, reminders are useful, for instance, for birth control pills adherence and are almost essential for any solution for participants of clinical trials.  

Compatibility with Wearable Devices

Smartwatches and fitness bracelets monitor your activities and vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, etc) and collect them. This data helps to monitor patient's health conditions, better understand the dynamics of illnesses, find more precise treatments and therapies for them. Similarly, trackers in wireless devices can enhance people’s fitness and sports routines. 

Integration with wearable devices, of course, requires reliable systems for data protection installed in the app. In terms of cybersecurity, wearables can become a huge liability. In case something goes wrong and data wearable displays directly impact a patient’s health (for instance, if the app is set to call a doctor when certain vital signs maximums are hit), the consequences can be devastating. But such devices can also save people’s lives — and they do

Types of Mobile Healthcare Apps Most Popular Among Patients

Now, let’s talk about the most popular types of digital health apps among patients. 

Doctor-on-Demand Apps

On-demand apps prove to be one of the most successful apps of all. They work the same way Uber works, connecting people to other people — in this case, patients to specific doctors. 

Here are some other features of on-demand digital healthcare apps:

  • Online profiles of both doctors and patients
  • Search to find a specific doctor
  • Telemedicine / Live video conferencing with doctors
  • Doctors’ rating system with images and reviews
  • GPS tracking to find clinics nearby
  • Push notifications with appointment reminders

Such apps are often developed by clinics — and they cover multiple departments with multiple doctors’ specialties. There are also startups like Headspace and Talkspace that use the doctor-on-demand model, too, but are focused on a specific branch of healthcare. 

Symptom Checkers

With Doctor Google being bad at helping people figure out what’s happening to them and visits to hospitals just to check what’s going on being too expensive, symptom checkers became very popular. (The pandemic also helped, because symptoms meant the necessity to self-isolate.) 

Good symptom checker apps have a solid evidence base. Good ones are also often recommended by doctors themselves. In these apps, patients can research what their symptoms might mean or answer the chatbot’s questions to figure out possible diagnoses. The results can either guide patients to instructions that will help relieve their symptoms or offer them to set up a consultation with a doctor. 

Health Management Apps

Health management apps are usually aimed to help people stick to certain routines or change them. These are apps for meds adherence mentioned before, apps for goal-setting and goal-achieving, and apps that help increase one’s health awareness or manage their illness. With patients wanting to lead healthier lives — and doctors offering patients apps for better self-management — this group is on the rise in 2022. 

As an example, a large segment of health management apps is apps for chronic pain management. They include trackers where patients report their level of pain, doctor-on-demand features for cases when they need advice or help, group chats for those with similar conditions, and a large knowledge base with tips, interviews, and insights on how to deal with the pain. The interactive part of the app includes exercises for alleviating pain, self-soothing techniques, and so on. 

Fitness Apps

People started to self-isolate during COVID-19, so they needed to stay physically active at home. High demand led to a boost in the fitness app market. Fitness app features include searching for trainers, specific fitness programs, and health recommendations related to nutrition, exercise schedules, and so on. 

Another important factor for the fast and successful development of fitness apps was, once again, wearables. In 2020, every fifth American used a fitness tracker. Now, there are even more people who do. Wearables make using fitness apps more engaging and informative. People exercise, can track their progress and celebrate it, and see — on charts and numbers — the transformation their body goes through. 

Wellness Apps

With wellness applications, people can find all sorts of information regarding their lifestyles, well-being, and how to improve them. This includes information on diet, sleep, stress, etc. These apps also (understandably) got boosted during the pandemic: people wanted to be more responsible and in control of what was happening to them. 

Mindfulness apps, apps for better sleep, apps for anxiety, etc. —  the list goes as far as people’s daily issues do. Pleasant design, interactivity, and proven clinical value are the winning factors for solutions in this group. 

How to Avoid Mistakes Building Patient Engaging Application

For your medical app to be successful, you need to find your audience, reach them, and make sure they stay. To do that, you need to know what usually annoys users. 

Here are some major things:

  • Complicated registration
  • Long identification process
  • Complex, messy UX
  • Lack of interactivity
  • A high price for a subscription

So, how to deal with all these? 

Pay Attention to Usability and User-Friendly Design

Design is the first thing users pay attention to. While developing it, remember that users like app layouts with clear, easily graspable navigation. App’s UI should be pleasant to look at and not overcrowded with features and links. 

Another thing: if the healthcare app contains a user’s health info, it should be compliant with HIPAA. HIPAA requirements often impact user experience, and developers should account for that. Case in point: HIPAA requires you to log users out after a certain period of inactivity. That can be uncomfortable for UX but it won’t be if you explain — in clear, friendly language — that the app does timeouts to protect users’ privacy. 

Set Reasonable Pricing for Paid Features

The next issue you need to deal with is the price. 

Decide on a monetization model only after doing user research. Some of the most common models of monetization are 

  • Freemium. A free version of a product that offers the main, basic value of an app for free, and a premium version that adds paid advantageous features.
  • Subscription-based. A monthly or annual cost of subscription to the app’s services. Apps with this monetization model usually include a free trial for users to test features they would pay for.
  • In-app purchases. Users pay for one product or service within an app.
  • Ads. An app monetizes by showing ads of other companies to users.

These models are often combined to “compensate” for free revenue streams. Apps that offer in-app purchases of, for instance, therapy sessions offer the first consultation for free. Apps that use freemium add ads to the free version of the app. 

To choose a model that would be good for your business and users, figure out how much different segments of your audience are ready to pay for the services, whether they prefer one-time payment or not, and so on. If you pick freemium, make the free version of the app as good and useful as possible. Then, even those who cannot pay extra will be your app’s promoters. 

Check user’s satisfaction levels with the quality of services in the app vs the price they pay for it to get the picture of future financial dynamics. For telemedicine, for instance, more people don’t use the service because of quality concerns (22%) than due to the cost (6%). 

Make Registration as Simple as Possible

Patients should be able to register quickly and easily. The most efficient way is via an email or social media account. When registration is too complicated or long, users are more likely to switch to another app (or drop the idea to use digital health at all). 

So: registration and onboarding have to be super simple and the app has to clearly state what it does. 

Help Patients Feel Control and Freedom

The last big issue most users face is a lack of interactivity and control over what is going on in the app. Add options to customize the user experience. 

If your app is conducting health data reports, add an option to download them. Allow users to set which notifications they want to receive and when. Add features to change font size and contrast settings — that will boost accessibility. If an app offers video classes, a download feature (even if the video will be temporarily downloaded) is a good choice. 

Make sure the value people get from your app doesn’t get overshadowed by constraints and inflexibility. 

A Reliable Development Partner Is One of the Key Success Elements for Health Application

Building a good and useful healthcare app is challenging. A trustworthy tech partner with domain expertise will help you to avoid the pitfalls startups in this field often fall into. With them, you won’t miss important compliance requirements and will successfully address industry-specific challenges like monetization connected to insurers or siloed digital systems in hospitals. 

Despite a lot of complexities to consider when developing healthcare solutions, we enjoy building mHealth apps a lot — it’s extremely rewarding. Diversido’s portfolio includes: 

  • Miro, an app to monitor a patients’ brain activity by giving them games to play and tracking their progress
  • VitalsBridge, an IoT app that helps doctors-in-training learn how to do defibrillation by simulating different body conditions on a medical mannequin.
  • Visual Gains, an app for bodybuilders to monitor their muscle growth that’s a good fit for those who want to achieve muscle symmetry.

All of these have been built with experts from the industry on board the development team. 

When you start working on your project, don’t forget to invite doctors, nurses, fitness trainers, etc. into the process. They’ll help you to account for workplace-specific issues they face and make the app more comfortable to use. It’s also best to test solutions among patients as early as possible and check in with them every so often to make sure you’re on the right track.

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