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Healthcare App Development to Grow Despite Limited Budgets

As mobile applications become more prominent in healthcare, organizations are facing security challenges and HIPAA regulations which influence how they choose mobile app development tools.

- Healthcare organizations face health data security challenges stemming from HIPAA regulations when developing client and patient applications, a reality which influences how they choose mobile app development tools to build and deploy apps.

Mobile applications in healthcare

Red Hat surveyed over 200 IT decision-makers from public healthcare, private healthcare, life sciences, and pharmaceutical organizations from the US and several western European countries on how they implement their mobile app development strategies and some of the challenges they face.

The survey found that 82 percent of healthcare organizations have implemented a mobile strategy, with 78 percent receiving a positive return on investment (ROI) from mobile applications. The generally positive financial outcome of healthcare mobile applications indicates a spike in future healthcare app development with 36 percent of respondents intending to develop additional apps over the next year.

While healthcare organizations are experiencing ROI for their healthcare apps, they may run into roadblocks where the initial development budget is concerned. The respondents intending to increase their number of apps this year are only planning on increasing their IT budgets an average of 15 percent to accommodate app development, deployment, and maintenance.

Apps are constantly changing due to operating system updates, patches, and usability modifications which means they cannot be deployed and left unmanaged. Investing in an app development platform rather than a one off development allows organizations to continue developing new inward and outward facing apps using the same platform for development and management.

Mobile applications are a vital part of healthcare technology and support internal operations as well as improve patient engagement through patient portals and fitness tracking devices. A survey conducted by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS)  showed how mobile health apps and other Internet-based, remote technologies can be used to engage patients with their healthcare and assist providers in meeting various meaningful use objectives.

While Red Hat’s survey found that mobile apps are currently provided primarily for doctor’s (59 percent) and second for patients (55 percent), respondents indicated that patient demand will drive patient app development to surpass internal efficiencies over the next 12 months.

Ninety-eight percent of respondents reported that implementing mobile apps presented challenges including security, cost, regulatory and compliance issues, and users adoption. Security was far and away the most prominent concern with 30 percent reporting that their primary security concern is data encryption from device back-end systems and 29 percent of reporting that their greatest security concern is end-to-end HIPAA compliance.

Mobile healthcare technology is evolving quickly and HIPAA regulation regarding mobile applications is sometimes slow to catch up. The Department of Health and Human Services is aware of this concern regarding new technology including app development and continue to work on “real time solutions” as they are presented.  

Technical challenges presented by the survey include back-end integration to healthcare systems (29 percent) and securing access to data  (27 percent). More than half (53 percent) of all respondents use an on-premise or partial on-premise deployment model for their mobile apps. In the U.S. 23 percent deploy in a private cloud and 11 percent in a public cloud. On-premise and partial on-premise deployment models are not uncommon in the healthcare industry because of regulations regarding protected health information (PHI).

Survey analysts suggest that organizations may benefit from looking at new generation app development and delivery platforms, based on modern technologies and architectures that can be deployed on-premise.

Healthcare organizations use a mix of different tools for app development. Thirty-nine percent of respondents report their organization or organization’s mobile app provider primarily uses a mix of common mobile front-end toolkits (SDKs, JS frameworks, etc.) to develop mobile apps. Twenty-six percent use rapid mobile application development (RMAD) and 23 percent use a mobile application development platform (MADP). Only 10 percent of U.S. respondents are using a mobile backend as-a-service (MBaaS) solution.

The mix of different tools indicates that there is no single app development solution for healthcare organizations. The survey concludes that, “even the best off-the-shelf solutions or RMAD tools can only address some of the challenges. For the healthcare industry, a central platform may work best to help develop, manage, secure and maintain both current and future mobile apps.”

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