Health care apps are rapidly growing in popularity. Consumers are eager to get their hands on apps that can help them track their daily activities and gain insight into their own health. Doctors, too, are enthusiastic about these tools, as they provide a much clearer understanding of an individual's physical condition than a brief checkup can offer.
Yet for all the benefits that these apps can deliver, their development can be a difficult undertaking. As TechTarget contributor Trevor Strome recently asserted, one of the keys to success in this area is achieving the right balance. Only by accommodating both security and usability can these apps deliver functionality without compromising patient privacy.
As the writer explained, he worked on health care app development projects in the mid-1990s. These apps were intended for tablets, which were exceedingly rare at the time and far less sophisticated than today's offerings. However, despite the seeming chasm that exists between the technology of old and what's available today, Strome argued that many of the rules that governed health care app development back then remain relevant to this day.
Key among these lessons is the need to strike the right balance between usability and security.
In terms of usability, Strome emphasized the importance of developing a comprehensive understanding of the project requirements and whatever issues or problems the app is supposed to address.
"For example, is the app needed for supplemental data collection (for quality improvement projects), clinical charting or information delivery (as required for evidence-based medicine)? By understanding the requirements, developers will have a better chance of including all the necessary functions and information that will make the app a useful asset," Strome wrote.
Another consideration, according to the writer, is the issue of workflow integration. All apps need to be available to users while they are on the move, and this is especially true when it comes to apps designed to collect or provide access to health care data. If doctors, nurses and clinicians are to take advantage of the potential utility of these assets, the apps need to accommodate business workflows. If this is not the case, Strome explained, then the apps will become more of a burden or hassle than a valuable resource for care providers.
"Process and workflow considerations can mean the difference between successful development or another add to the slag-pile of apps that didn't meet expectations," the writer stated.
Ultimately, though, none of these considerations should trump security. Strome pointed out that as early as 1996, the potential danger of lost or stolen mobile devices was already a hot-button issue, demanding that mobile health care apps have significant security in place to ensure sensitive data remains unavailable to unauthorized users.
The need for app security has grown even more significant in recent years. Not only do developers need to worry about the individual user's information, but the heavily interconnected nature of modern mobile devices may put the entire network at risk.
Furthermore, there are now far more regulations on the books that concern how both care providers and general organizations handle patient data. Failure to comply with these rules can lead to serious repercussions.
That is why it is so important for mobile health care app developers to make application security a priority. A big part of this should be the implementation of sophisticated security tools, such as static code analysis solutions. Static analysis can help to reduce testing costs and increase developer productivity, all while ensuring that app development code remains safe, secure and reliable.
• See how static code analysis built for Android development helps secure your code (PDF)
• Understand how security breaches occur and steps to minimize them by watching this webinar