Toolkits

mHealth App Selection - Deployment and Support

Mobile health apps provide an interesting challenge to organizations looking to provide a controlled, organized technology deployment to their staff and patients. Due to the ubiquity of cell phones and tablet devices, it is quite likely that an organization will have to determine how to best integrate existing personal devices with newly purchased, program-specific applications. Below we’ve listed several key considerations for an organization in the process of planning.

Planning

Who are the users?

Deploying a mobile app for use in a clinical or home health setting may seem simpler than a full-scale equipment deployment, but there are still important considerations.  Deciding on a group of initial users will simplify training and minimize the impact of app bugs or compatibility issues. Is the app available for use on multiple mobile operating systems? If so, is the look and feel of the app similar enough to make training patients and staff relatively seamless? How key is the data being stored? Duplicity is imperative as mobile apps are first introduced to patients and providers—ensure successful training and verify data before relying entirely on mobile app solutions.

Setting Minimum Requirements

Once an organization determines its app user group, it must determine which mobile apps will best meet operational needs. Examples of minimum requirements may include the ability of an app to facilitate data sharing between the patient and provider, whether or not medical data can be stored on the device or on the cloud, and if the app is available for use with multiple mobile operating systems.  Is it enough for an app to simply store blood glucose levels, or will the provider also require data on exercise, blood pressure, diet, and weight?

Existing Devices vs. New Purchases

Once minimum app requirements are determined, an organization must answer whether or not it will purchase new devices for their employees or if it will support personal devices already in use by employees. There are difficulties in either scenario, and each must be weighed appropriately.

Existing devices owned by employees have a couple of benefits, namely that the organization does not need to purchase new equipment, and employees will already be familiar with the product. However, complexities can arise regarding patient privacy, network security, and operating system discrepancies.  Clear usage and security policies must be set for personal devices to mitigate these concerns.

Testing

Selecting an app, or any technology for that matter, requires pre-deployment testing in its native environment.  In other words, it is not enough to just read or rely on the developer’s claim that interoperability exists.  For example, if your app needs to be available for use on multiple mobile-operating systems, secure devices of various screen sizes using each operating system to ensure that the functionality and display is to your satisfaction.  If an app must allow for manual data entry vs. only allowing data syncing from a medical device, ensure that each version of the app will accommodate your minimum requirements.

Deployment

Once the equipment for an app is identified or obtained, provide an area to stage and train the apps on the configured devices. This will help ensure that support issues are initially addressed by getting users familiar with app use on each phone or tablet, and will allow your team to address any differences in how the apps behave on each device before they are used.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology discusses many issues and questions related to the deployment and support of mobile solutions in the workplace. You may find this document in our resources section of our 2012 mHealth toolkit.

Support

After verifying that the apps and their devices will work for your needs, ensure that there are instructions available to those attempting to utilize the app. A basic level of setup and troubleshooting documentation will result in reduced service calls, and this documentation can serve as a guide should issues arise. Don’t assume that an app that appears simple to you will be intuitive to other staff or patients.

Before problems occur during use, determine who is responsible for providing app support. Will the organization be prepared to train and support staff and patient users? Will the app developer be available to the organization to address problems? Clarifying these issues up front will streamline the support process.