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Health apps are one of the most exciting areas of software development today – especially as wearable devices like the Apple Watch feature increasingly powerful hardware for gathering user health data.

However, there are serious regulatory concerns and big ethical implications for unsatisfactory user experiences that developers must consider ahead of developing a health app.

Health apps are becoming big business

Health apps are a rapidly-expanding market, so software developers are flocking-in to try and develop useful applications and tools for patients, medical professionals, and healthcare providers.

How valuable is the global mobile medical apps market?

However, factors like quality control and data security take on a profound level of importance when it comes to developing health apps. As well as legitimate concerns about the potential loss of confidential patient data, inaccurate results in a health app could give a patient false reassurance or unnecessary alarm – both of which have severe ethical implications.

Much like the banking industry, health app developers have to balance important regulatory demands against strong commercial incentives to develop useful, innovative, and regularly updated mobile apps. Agile and DevOps can help. But there are a range of technical considerations that developers of health apps should also take into account.

Healthcare companies should ‘rush to the cloud’

Eric Schmidt – former CEO of Google – used his HIMSS 2018 keynote address in Las Vegas to argue that healthcare companies should rush to the cloud instead of relying on proprietary data centers and software tools.

“Get to the cloud. Run to the cloud… Don’t stop, don’t walk, don’t think about it — just run. Take an airplane, fly to the cloud, whatever metaphor you care about.

– Eric Schmidt, Former CEO of Google

Cloud-based testing tools like Bitbar offer enterprise-grade security and the flexibility to run the Private Cloud service on a range of VPCs (virtual private cloud) – including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud – which each offer strict security measures that can accommodate healthcare and pharmaceutical companies.

Schmidt argued that the healthcare industry is ‘conservative beyond where it should be’ and criticized it for moving too slowly and cautiously. He recommended that moving to the cloud could open the door to an era of more efficient care.

‘Most of you sit in institutions that have proprietary data centers that have some sort of logic about them… Most of that logic may have been true five or 10 years ago, but it isn’t today. We now have — much safer than your data center, much more compliant than your data center and much easier to use — cloud-based servers within our industry… Choose any over zero.’

– Eric Schmidt, Former CEO of Google

He also said that ‘The future of healthcare lies in the need for killer apps’ – and suggested that digital healthcare will rely on an ecosystem of these apps working together in the cloud where they can share data to improve patient outcomes and identify cost-savings.

However, he warned that this will require the transfer of huge quantities of patient data that are currently held on EHRs (Electronic Health Records) – as well as data from smartphones and wearables – to build a complete picture of an individual’s health.

Mobile testing is crucial for health apps

Medical professionals will potentially use health apps in high-stress environments, where an issue with the app performance could affect whether a patient receives the right care or guidance.

Consumer-facing health apps might not be used in such high-stakes environments, but issues like instability and poor performance are still going to carry significant implications if they rely on these apps to track their health metrics.

Continuously testing a health app across the range of smartphones that rapidly enter the market requires a huge amount of infrastructure, ongoing investment, and technical expertise.

A dedicated solution like Bitbar Enterprise can enable health app developers to ensure their device runs reliably and predictably across new smartphones as they hit the market, without having to maintain their own testing facilities.

Developers for health apps have a range of important regulatory guidelines to consider for each territory they operate within. But there are clear advantages to leveraging cloud-based technologies and outsourcing mobile app testing to a dedicated platform.

Alex Napier Holland

Tech Business Writer