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So you want to build an app for doctors? Top 5 Lessons
At pMD we’ve been building mobile messaging and charge capture apps for doctors since the Palm Pilot. The app was a bit ahead of its time, but it’s surprising to note that even though the landscape has drastically changed, the fundamentals of what makes a good mobile app for doctors have not.

So before you decide to revolutionize the way doctors interact with their patients and smartphones, here are five lessons we’ve learned:

1. Security

There are very important and profound responsibilities for any application that deals with protected health information. From client side encryption of stored and transmitted data to strict requirements for any cloud based server solutions, these are not challenges that can be addressed “later.” Plan and build for them from day one. More than likely, you’ll need to persuade a hospital’s security team and lawyers that your app won’t lead to unwanted litigation and meets HIPAA/HITECH rules.

2. Robust offline mode

For many consumer apps, this isn’t a high priority. Yet if you’ve spent just a little bit of time walking the halls of a hospital, you’ll understand that there are some very pronounced WiFi and cellular dead spots, so not being able to work offline is a dealbreaker. From cath labs to a doctor’s office, work needs to get done even without internet access. Medical apps, with few exceptions, must have a robust offline mode; essentially allowing the doctor to do all that is physically possible in the app without any reception. Any pending work should be transparently queued and sent when connectivity is reestablished. Native apps have advantages in this area over strictly mobile friendly websites, but if the app still needs data connectivity to load a screen or let the user enter any data, you’re still failing to offer true mobility.

3. Interoperability

A doctor does not work in isolation, but is part of a larger care eco-system. Any medical app dealing with patient data will need to live and integrate with other systems sooner rather than later. This is one of the main value propositions of moving away from paper in health care. Currently, this interoperability is through the industry standard HL7 protocol between Electronic Health Records, Practice Management, hospital registration, and billing systems.

4. Hidden Customizability

Many medical practices have become Galapagos Islands of “individuality.” Across more than a hundred medical specialties and a tumultuous regulatory and financial landscape, different communication and financial workflows have evolved over time. The key in building a usable app for doctors is understanding where you can change a workflow for the better, and when you need to adapt to it. Hiding additional buttons and screens from the end-user until the last possible moment helps preserve the simplicity and elegance of your app. Let the customer grow into any advanced functionality.

5. Easy Access to Support

Human support is always important, especially when you’re dealing with a highly educated and time-pressed clientele. When we train doctors on our charge capture and messaging software, we tell them that the most important thing to remember in the app is how to reach us anytime by simply tapping the built-in button to call or message us. Many won’t need to, but the option and ease to do so is hugely reassuring to a busy doctor.
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