Last month I reported on the latest developments being made in the field of wearable medical technology that promise to change the way healthcare services are delivered around the world. We have also kept you updated on the increasing prevalence of mobile medical applications, which have done their part to create a new landscape for patient care. These cutting-edge technologies are revolutionizing the way we approach our health, and federal regulators are taking notice.

For good reason – according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), mobile healthcare apps were downloaded an estimated 660 million times as of June 2013. By 2015, 500 million smartphone users worldwide are expected to regularly use some type of healthcare application. And by 2018, industry experts estimate this figure to grow to 1.7 billion mobile users, all who will likely use mobile healthcare applications on a fairly regular basis. These current and future users include patients, doctors, and other healthcare professionals, as well as general consumers who may not currently be experiencing health problems.

As our readers probably know, mobile medical apps are radically changing the way doctors and patients interact and approach health care. The advances in technology have tremendous potential to eliminate inefficiencies, reduce costs, increase transparency, and make health care more affordable by speeding diagnosis, improving monitoring and reducing unnecessary visits to a physician or hospital. Many apps – ranging from information databases about drugs and diseases to sophisticated monitors that read patients’ symptoms and diagnostic data – have been designed in consultation with physicians themselves.

However promising these trends are, of course, they are not without inherent challenges. As an initial matter, user error is a serious concern that is being voiced in the healthcare industry. The era of “DIY” medical diagnosis (on websites such as WebMd) would presumably only increase with advances in technology and the concomitant elimination of face-to-face consultation with a physician. For that reason, mobile applications catering to physicians and especially to patients should be highly intuitive and easy to operate in order to minimize user error.  Gaining access to critical information with minimal input from the end user is key, particularly when considering the potentially compromised capability and mindset of a patient user. The apps should have a high error tolerance and should include components to eliminate human error, which in some cases could be synonymous with life or death situations.

Privacy concerns are also of paramount importance. Regulatory requirements mandate strict compliance with data protection and privacy laws, and security requirements mandate advanced encryption techniques to process sensitive information. Safeguards must be in place to detect and react immediately to any actual or intended security breaches or infringements. At the risk of stating the obvious, any app or platform that is processing and transmitting patient data must be thoroughly protected and resilient to the most sophisticated of attacks.

In short, mobile medical apps need to be user-friendly for doctors and patients alike and must maintain the highest level of security and protection of data in order to serve their intended purpose. Both form and substance are vital in developing healthcare applications for them to be of any value to the industry. To that end, innovators of healthcare applications should ensure that the apps they are developing:

  • Provide only the authorized parties with access to confidential information about a patient’s health and personal data
  • Comply with regulatory and legal standards prescribed under HIPAA, FDA, etc.
  • Have easy to use and intuitive interfaces that are adoptable by doctors and patients alike
  • Include location-based information to mobilize resources in case of emergencies
  • Automate simple tasks to eliminate redundancies and decrease healthcare delivery costs
  • Have a high degree of reliability and accuracy

This list is of course non-exhaustive, of course, given the extreme importance of “getting it right” when it comes to providing and receiving critical healthcare services. Because no single company is likely to have the resources or expertise to comply with the diverse requirements on these mobile apps, crowd testing offers a way of engaging all stakeholders in addressing the various considerations involved in implementing these new technologies. If you think about the fact that even the most basic apps like Scrabble or OpenTable get crowd tested before they become available, the imperative for crowd testing mobile medical apps cannot be overstated.

How do developers go about getting their apps crowd tested? For starters, usability experts with specialized know-how in the healthcare domain should be sought to recommend methods that facilitate adoption and usage, keeping in mind the diverse knowledge and capabilities of users (i.e., potentially compromised patients versus skilled medical professionals). Application developers should consult extensively with healthcare practitioners and legal experts to ensure that the app meets the necessary functional, regulatory, and compliance requirements. As discussed above, complying with patient privacy laws and FDA requirements are of critical importance to ensure a patient’s safety when using a mobile medical app. On the technical side, expert software testers should conduct a battery of tests on the app to ensure that it works correctly, requires the minimal system requirements, is resilient to user error, and so on.

Crowd testing also makes it possible to target mobile healthcare apps to a specific subset of testers to gather their views and opinions on the fitness for purpose and use considerations. System process integrators could evaluate the adequacy of functions and processes for mission critical applications, particularly those that may be mobilized in emergency situations. To see how a global crowd testing company has already worked to successfully deploy mobile medical apps in Europe, click here.

In essence, crowd testing is just taking the app “rating” system to the next level – making sure it does what it is supposed to in the most critical of scenarios. By seeking the knowledge and expertise of a crowd testing community, application developers can ensure the functionality, safety, and compliance of their innovations in order to deliver superior healthcare when and where it is needed.