Top 5 Strategies to Save Development Time (When Building a Health App)

Liat Kadosh-Zamir by Liat Kadosh-Zamir

As you probably know, there’s widespread demand for custom apps that can optimize care delivery, facilitate patient engagement and enablement, and effect better health outcomes. However, health applications often have their own unique challenges. This article contains five tips for building health apps more efficiently.

1. Don’t reinvent the wheel

Even though every health app has a unique purpose, many apps share common features. When developing a new health app, it’s often possible to use existing platforms, frameworks and code libraries as a starting point and add functionality that’s unique to the particular application at hand. While there are many popular health platforms and frameworks out there, two (very different) examples include SMART Health IT, an open platform that enables developers to build interoperable health apps, and FHIRbase, a database that makes it easy to deploy a FHIR-standard data store.

2. Do some QA work before starting development

If your health app needs to integrate with third-party APIs (such as an EMR platform or a clinical data store), you should consider performing a round of QA on these API(s) before beginning the development work. Yes, you heard it: Do some QA before development. This is because APIs can be notoriously buggy, and your project will slow down tremendously if you leave all of the QA to the end of the project and uncover bugs in an API at that point. If you create a list of test cases at the beginning of project and then test every API endpoint that you plan to connect to, this will give the API provider more time to fix the bugs – and it will also give you more time to implement workarounds if necessary.

3. Design for scalability and sustainability

When planning your health-related application, it’s important to design it with maintainability in mind. A good way to do this is to build it in a modular way, so that individual modules can be upgraded over time without much effect on other parts of the system. Most good developers use a development framework, which provides a structure for the codebase. This way, multiple developers can upgrade and change different parts of the codebase with less risk of impacting each others’ changes.

4. Consult with privacy and security experts

Health apps in the United States that deal with personally identifiable patient information has to meet HIPAA guidelines. Since privacy and security are such important considerations when it comes to health, consult with a trusted privacy and security expert while planning the app and before starting on the development. This is because what they tell you might affect the way that the app is designed and developed. It’s also important to budget additional time for security testing into your QA plan.

5. Use a common standard, like HL7 FHIR

Last but not least, if your application will need to share data with other platforms now or in the future, it’s best to develop its integration points around a common standard. An evolving specification known as HL7 FHIR is becoming the de facto standard for sharing health information between systems. FHIR is a robust yet flexible standard that comes with concise and easily understood specifications. The standard boasts multiple code libraries, along with many example applications to kick-start development. Developers can use these tools to get “simple interfaces working in a single day”, something that’s unheard of in healthcare.