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Apps for Patients with Chronic Conditions: How to Make Them Work

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Be sure to integrate these key features when building software apps for patients.

Today, chronic conditions are a challenge not only for patients but also for healthcare providers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 60% of U.S. adults suffer from chronic conditions, and 40% of them live with two or more chronic diseases. Those diseases are the key cause of disability and death in patients.

Mobile apps for these patients may be able to help them manage their chronic conditions. Here are some feature recommendations for software app engineers to keep in mind when developing solutions for such patient populations.

Choosing a Niche

Before setting off with mobile health app development, technology developers should consult with healthcare providers to identify a chronic condition to focus on. Statistics on chronic conditions and related hospitalizations could identify the patient populations most in need.

Key Features for Health Apps

An app for chronic-condition-impacted patients is not a mere calendar or organizer. It’s a full-scale assistant that helps patients adapt to their condition specifics and manage their life efficiently.

As patients living with chronic conditions come from varied demographic groups and have different incomes, living conditions, and levels of access to healthcare services, it’s best to try developing cross-platform applications to cover a wider target audience. Furthermore, a lot of these applications fall under the software as a medical device (SaMD) category, and such software should be developed according to the ISO and FDA standards relevant for a particular case.

So, what are the core features to include in such an app?

A Patient Education Module

This module allows patients to stay updated on the news related to their disease and its management. Here, patients can also get some tips on suitable nutrition and training, meditation, sleep management, and more. They can also learn more about relevant medical breakthroughs such as new treatments, relevant clinical trials, digital helpers for self-monitoring, and management strategies targeting their conditions.

Though the effects of patient education are positive, providers still lag behind in implementing such modules efficiently. The majority of them still offer outdated training materials such as brochures that no one checks for quality and relevance over time.

To upscale patient education, it’s recommended to have materials reviewed regularly by medical professionals and prioritize visual educational content (videos, charts, and presentations) over plain text. Games and quizzes can also serve as efficient self-check tools for patients.

A Diary

In this module, patients can store daily updates on their state of health, symptoms, therapies, and various factors affecting them. The diary could help patients track potential relapse triggers, manage medication, and track symptoms to stay in control of their health. Interestingly, this very feature can help patients take their medications without interruptions. According to 2020 research published in the JMIR, over 96% of chronic-condition patients managed to maintain optimal treatment adherence over time by using a designated mobile app.

Such a diary can offer yet another benefit—auto-generated reports. These reports help patients to learn about their progress or regress quickly and act accordingly. Depending on the provider’s intentions and the app’s purpose, such reports may remain confidential for the patient’s use only or sent regularly to the provider. The built-in analytics and notification system may also automatically detect critical abnormalities in the reports and notify medical professionals about potentially dangerous situations. In any case, all information in the reports falls under the definition of highly sensitive data and should be stored, transferred, and disposed of accordingly.

Integration with Digital Ecosystems

Tracking symptoms and monitoring health data independently is helpful. However, chronic-condition patients often seek clarifications from their trusted doctors, which requires a consultation. Therefore, the respective mobile app would need integration with the provider’s systems to let patients book appointments, participate in telehealth visits, or check their lab results. It also makes sense to set up integration with the provider’s communication tool. This way a patient will be able to contact their clinician directly should an urgent issue arise.

Interacting with medical personnel is not the only thing chronic-condition patients require. As they take various medicines regularly, integration with the provider’s partner pharmacies can come in handy. That allows patients to have their monthly set of prescriptions delivered without delay and extra effort.

Chronic-condition patients often use wearables and remote patient monitoring devices to track their health parameters continuously. To let patients enjoy the advantages of continuous health tracking, a smooth integration is required. Medical devices usually have specific software embedded into them, so integrations with applications always require custom development for a specific type of device. More general-use wearables like fitness trackers are easily connected to a variety of applications and have ready-made integration kits for developers. In both cases, cross-platform options should be developed, because restricting users to a particular platform may hurt the already vulnerable group of patients.

On a Final Note

Chronic conditions are challenging not only for patients who endure them but also for medical service providers. Treatment and management of these diseases take up a lion’s share of healthcare costs.

That’s why engineers should follow practices aimed at building a user-friendly and intuitive final product. For example, adopting continuous development and implementation practices allow developers to spend more time on adding valuable features and cut the development costs. During this process, the feedback of medical specialists and focus groups is crucial to keep the app in tune with their requirements, since solutions for different chronic conditions would have unique features.

Enhancing such apps with gamification elements can also be a good idea for lightening the psychological burden of people living with chronic conditions. 

Additionally, healthcare apps are heavily regulated, so developers have to make sure their software complies with HIPAA, HITECH, and other industry standards to protect patient data. The same applies to quality assurance, because since such software’s failure can cost users their well-being, developers must follow industry requirements for medical applications development. 

TAGS: Electronics
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