Google, IBM alums share advice for mHealth development

If you're rushing to build your own hospital app or push your EMR out to patients, you're probably moving too fast.

That's the upshot of a recent discussion I had with former Google designer Joe Sriver and ex-IBM architect Wade Beavers, the founder and the CEO, respectively, of DoApp, a Minneapolis-based mobile tech development firm. (DoApp recently debuted a new mobile system, Mytality, that it is developing with the Mayo Clinic.)

Joe Sriver of DoApp
Joe Sriver - Founder, DoApp
One big warning from Sriver: Don't get swept up in the growing media/market hype around mobile development. Find out not only what functions your patients want, but what they're technically ready to handle. Sriver's bet is that for now, they'll be happy with simple, basic functions like directions to the hospital, email connections with clinicians, and access to health information. It's a philosophy that has driven his own product development, with Mytality focusing on first aid guides, a series of wellness tracker apps, and online health information.

Still, Sriver maintains, slowing down doesn't mean coming to a "full stop." Patients certainly are ascending the mobile learning curve and eventually will be ready for more. Hospitals, therefore, should build out their mobile connectivity in layers--starting with simple tasks and planning the more complicated functionality for later.

Wade Beavers of DoApp
Wade Beavers - President and CEO, DoApp
Beavers agrees, adding that at the moment, people simply aren't ready for more complex innovations. "It's like online banking," he says. "Ten years ago, no one trusted online banks," but now, everyone is comfortable managing their accounts by smartphone. "In healthcare," he continues, "we see the same transformation coming, with more trust, and more capability among users....Hospitals don't want to outpace their patients."

Another reason to start simple is the nature (ie - size) of smartphones, Sriver says. "You have to break things down into small, bite-sized pieces...users only can really do one thing at the time." And unlike PC-based software, smartphone workflows need to be relatively linear, moving from task-to-task or field-to-field in a logical order. Navigating between screens or tabs on a smartphone can be tricky at best.

One final bit of guidance from Sriver and Beavers: Develop a multi-generational mobile strategy. Beavers, in particular, sees mobile healthcare developing very differently from web-based healthcare.

"Mobile doesn't discriminate around age. It's not like PCs or laptops," he says. "People older than 55 might not be terribly computer-savvy, but they're quickly becoming" highly agile smartphone users. - Sara