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Distinguishing Healthcare Mobile Apps from Web, Desktop Apps

Organizations introducing healthcare mobile apps into their IT infrastructure need to understand the fundamental differences to desktop apps as wells as how to develop apps specifically for mobile devices.

healthcare mobile apps

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Making the distinction between healthcare mobile apps and web applications traditionally designed for desktops and laptops is one of the most significant challenges healthcare organizations face when modernizing their IT infrastructure.

The hardware in mobile devices causes them to be constrained by speed of computation, size of memory, and the bandwidth of the wireless network, according to Medigram CEO Sherri Douville. Problems with device memory contributes to app crashes because of packet loss.

"Capacity planning for enterprise application design has traditionally hinged on the ability to control the production and end-user environment such as in an office business park as opposed to a hospital,” Douville told HITInfrastructure.com.  “As healthcare networks continuously iterate, it's impossible to predict capacity for that such as memory consumption. This is why applications designed from a tools-first perspective fall short in the healthcare environment.

“This is when for example, the prior applications worked well on hard wired connections,” she continued. “When there are memory failures, mobile applications crash and don't open. This is in part due to the difference between mobile and its increased [input and output] pressure in relationship to the network environment and interaction to wired, or wireless connections. This is a dominant problem in healthcare today for mobile apps."

Packets are how information is carried to digital devices and packet loss is the result of network congestion or buffer overflows on end-used devices, according to the Linux Information Project.

A buffer is part of the device’s memory that temporarily holds data that is being exchanged from an external device. When there is more data than the buffer can handle, packet loss will occur and the app will crash.

Packet loss is when packets are discarded as a result of overloaded network devices. When these devices are overloaded, they can’t accept additional packets, which causes apps to crash.

In a healthcare environment, clinicians can’t do their jobs if the apps they use to treat patients continually crash because they are not developed, deployed, or tested properly.

Applications cannot function properly if they are missing information. If a clinician is in an emergency situation and is using a native application that crashed because it wasn’t designed properly, the patient can be put at serious risk.

All devices are different in terms of hardware, such as CPU and processing power. Apps that are being built natively for mobile devices can’t be approached the same way as desktop or web apps.

Desktop and web apps are limited platforms and don’t depend as heavily on device hardware.

Understanding that software on a mobile device behaves differently than is does on a desktop and therefore needs to be developed differently is critical to the success of mobile applications.

“The problem is that most engineers that are leading companies have maybe never designed software for a mobile phone,” explained Douville. “They’ve never even thought of the phone’s hardware. They’ve only written software and compiled it into something that’s accessible online.”

“Not understanding the device as well as its operating environment will cause solutions to continue to fail unless they’re willing to dig into those details.”

In addition to compensating for the hardware available for mobile devices, organizations also need to look to their network to make sure it can handle additional wireless traffic. Desktops and even some laptops are hardwired into the network, so the influx of wireless devices may hinder mobile applications from exchanging information.

Douville suggested that organizations test their apps in offline mode to address these challenges. Organizations should then switch from WiFi to 2G, to no internet when testing the mobile app to ensure that is works over several different network types.

Understanding the needs of different devices and tools is critical to ensuring that they function correctly. Digital tools that are unreliable can cause treatment delays and potentially put patients in danger.

Approaching mobile applications differently can increase the application’s success rate and allows clinicians to successfully use their digital tools.

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