5 things to remember when developing a good medical app

Dr Marlon-Ralph Avatar
Tech Medicine

Most people will admit that the 21st century is easily the best time to be alive because of information on health issues, and likewise most medical practitioners will admit that its a great time to be a doctor!

The amount of health information that was previously contained in voluminous books is now readily accessible at the literal touch of our fingers. Entire medical libraries are now stored on a single device that snugly fits into the white coat pocket next to the stethoscope.

As a medical practitioner, I use medical apps on a daily basis. Whether it’s for cross checking drug dosage or performing a complex calculation to assess kidney function or even counseling a patient, there are countless instances where apps are useful. They bring convenience, make the job less stressful and ultimately they save lives.

All this convenience is made possible through a set of good medical apps with the relevant features downloaded onto a mobile device. The market for such apps is huge and each doctors has to figure out what complements his or her work.

According to 148apps.biz, there are over 35,000 currently active medical apps on the App Store constituting just over 2% of the 1.7 million apps on the App Store! This excludes over 50,000 apps that are registered as health and fitness apps.

So faced with such a seemingly flooded market, what is it that makes a medical mobile app particularly worth the download? For the developers out there here is a bit of a guide into what constitutes a good medical app. Hopefully this will inspire some solutions for Zimbabwean doctors.

Medical-App1.Good design
Well this is true for any app. A good medical app must be aesthetically appealing with a smooth user interface. I was much disappointed with the Lancet laboratories app. Considering it’s great potential for usefulness, it has such a bland and boring outlook. There seems to be a misconception that doctors do well with gloom and gore. We need colour and fun too.

2. Well referenced
It is imperative that a health or medical app be well referenced because peoples lives are at stake. Incorrect information can kill! In a country like the USA where app based information is used extensively, unscrupulous apps which misinform the public are the reason that the FDA has had to step in with regulations to govern Heath related mobile apps.

In this age of evidence based medicine, a good app is the one that bases its information on actual research or current acceptable practice. Locally, a good example is Econet’s Health Tips. Dr Lunga, the head of Econet Health, employs her background in research to ensure that the health information they send out to their subscribers via SMS is proven by research.

3. Collaboration
Collaboration or partnership with a credible medical institution can give a reassuring sense of legitimacy to the app. Consider how Apple, when developing its Health App ResearchKit, partnered with medical research juggernauts such as Oxford, Stanford and Penn Medicine. There is an app that offers a 3D interactive image of the heart. I readily downloaded it because it was powered by Harvard Medical School.

4. Comprehensiveness
A Triple threat app is one that combines point of care features with medical education and patient education features. This is part of what has made the giants into what they are today.

Medscape is the single most downloaded medical app on both the App Store and the Google Play store. It offers comprehensive and integrated medical information for use at the point of care, whilst also having educational tools that offer medical news and articles. The Cochrane Review Library App cleverly includes a plain English summary of its articles for the general public. Including video tutorials and illustrations to a medical app is a strategic way of offering that robust package.

5. Ethics
Medical apps seem to be quite easy to monetize because pharmaceuticals want to jump in on them to advertise. A good medical app clearly identifies its sponsorship. For example Medscape declares what it calls ‘information from the industry’. It is honorable for an app to state any conflict of interest where it exists and reveal partnerships with pharmaceuticals or healthcare providers. This also eases the relationship with the regulatory and licensing authorities who are concerned with protecting the public.

In the medical field there are problems to be solved, lives to be saved, jobs to be created and money to be made if we continue striving towards creating useful good quality apps.  A round of applause to the Zimbo developers out there that can grab the opportunity and create our own apps!


  1. macd chip

    Nice to have you here Doc! Although you sound a Apple Fanboy, you seem to know your apps and what makes them good.

    Because of the economic situation in Zim, l can say 80% of apps being developed are not being done out of passionate or to solve any problem.

    Majority of them are just quickly put together, make sure they work and out into the market trying to monitise them. We are still way behind in making apps which suites and solve our everyday needs.

  2. Kudzayi

    jus when i was about to write a Facebook post on how smart phones have made life easier for me as a medical doctor.There are so many conditions which i as a doctor are poorly understood and as a consequence have no definitive management protocols.IThe apps are great n environment friendly!