As other industries, particularly online retail, have raised the bar for customer experiences, health care customers (also known as patients) are demanding better service and value from their health care interactions as well. Few examples tell this story better than the recent explosion of the health care app economy.
Whether you ultimately need to build a business to business (B2B)- or business to consumer (B2C)-facing app, here are three key recommendations to consider before your health care organization jumps into the deep end with app development:
1. Seek user feedback to identify problems; gain objectivity.
In the era of big data, there is an overabundance of information including over 318,000 health care-related apps, most of which are never even used. The challenge in this newly cluttered market becomes a question of whether your app solution is faster, better or different? Has your organization adequately identified marketplace problems to make a real impact? B2B companies can lose objectivity, pushing a menu of services without nailing down specific ways to help solve problems.
It’s also important to ask early on: Is the proof of concept (POC) viable? To remove the “guessing game,” gather feedback from potential users early in the ideation process. This can include current or potential customers, industry peers or consultants. Their input can provide a swift reality check about your concept’s usefulness and perceived competitive advantages.
That being said, don’t overthink things. Even simplicity as a differentiator can be sufficient. Having an app that does one thing, but does it extremely well, can be a competitive advantage — particularly if you’re presenting a solution that people genuinely want, or that you’re tackling in a different way (a more simple way, in this case).
Take Venmo as an example of a singular functionality app. It more simply allows its users to do one thing — pay friends or family online. And thus, it has quickly become a market leader — a “verb” even. “Just Venmo me later.”
We should be seeking this same level of simplicity for the end-user with health care technologies and app development.
2. Know your audience.
Meeting your customers “where they are” is the very essence the app economy is designed to address. Consider the platforms where your customers are already conducting business, what environments they are in, and how will they be interacting with your app products.
For example, if you’re developing for a small market that has become cluttered, then consider that your solution might not be a great fit.
Conversely, if you feel that you’ve stumbled upon an untapped market, conduct research and understand why that market is untapped. Have others come before you and deemed that solutions in this particular market are too hard to execute or don’t deliver enough return on investment (ROI)? Maybe there are legal restrictions, for example, which impede progress.
Best practices with marketing research tactics could include:
• Building relationships with analyst groups, such as Gartner, Forrester Research, IDC or other organizations
• Contracting with industry-specific consultants
• Employing survey tools for your existing customer base
• Not underestimating the value of one-on-one interviews with your existing or potential customers
While market research and user feedback is vital, don’t be intimidated that you must be “all things to all people” upon the app product launch. Plan a minimum viable product (MVP), which has been thoroughly beta-tested, and go from there. You don’t need to spend eight months to bake in all of the eventual functionality, because, as everyone knows, apps are constantly being updated to fix bugs, meet more stringent security requirements, and to take advantage of updated operating systems as they are available.
As you consider all of the possible locations where your customers are already conducting business. Note that many SaaS or tech companies now have their own app marketplaces, examples of which might include Google, Zoom, Slack or Salesforce.
And with health-care-specific technology platforms, EHRs for example, there is a reason why Epic, Cerner, Allscripts and Athena all have their own app stores now as well.
“There is only so much big companies can do,” as Healthcare IT News reasoned, “and further, sometimes the perspective from an innovative upstart developer can shed light on new features and processes not previously considered.”
3. Pragmatically align to your mission.
Regardless of how long an organization has been in business, it has likely already established core capabilities or a mission statement by which to strategically align the organization as it grows its portfolio of products and solutions. That is, the company already knows which industry, pain points and care settings to focus on.
Pragmatic marketing is but one set of product development principles that can help further align your organization across all of its departments. The idea is to involve members from across departments as you are ideating, developing, marketing and then selling your product.
To foster or maintain a high level of trust for your brand among its customers, particularly if your app will be utilizing patient health information (PHI) or even personally identifiable information (PII), make sure you have taken steps to allay any security fears for your users. Or if security is not a core competency in-house, find a partner organization, or develop for an app platform with these competencies. Any app released on Salesforce, for example, takes the onus off the developer when you use their Lightning developer platform, because they have already secured the data for you. If you’re a smaller organization, you may have in-house IT personnel that believe you are sufficiently secure, but it is better to trust a larger organization that has dedicated more robust resources to security.
If your tech company or health IT company has recently ventured into uncharted app development waters, and any of these above tips ring true or conflict with your experiences, please comment below. We’re all about breaking through “innovation bubbles” to improve collaboration as we work together to improve people’s lives via tech or health IT solutions — and app products and solutions are a burgeoning area that we expect will continue to grow.