Selecting a Mobile App: Evaluating the Usability of Medical Applications

Purpose of this Document

This document has been prepared as an aid to the healthcare provider or IT staff member who is engaged in the selection of mobile apps for his/her practice or hospital organization. While formal, professionally conducted, usability evaluations can provide in-depth product comparisons they may not be a practical consideration for small- to medium-sized practices. This guide outlines some basic steps, to include in a mobile app selection process, to assist practices evaluate mobile app usability, based on current usability recommendations and best practices. While the target audience of this guide is for the provider and smaller practices, the steps outlined in this document can also be used by large practices and healthcare institutions.

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What is an “App”?

There are two general types of mobile apps, native and non-native. Native apps reside on a mobile device. Non-native apps utilize browser interfaces or other gateways to provide the end user with information through a mobile device. A native mobile app requires download through a market place associated with the operating system (OS), such as iTunes for Apple OS devices, Android’s marketplace for Android OS-powered phones, and Research in Motion’s App Store for Blackberry devices. Non-native apps simply require that the mobile device have the appropriate web browser or other interface enabled.

Medical apps fall under many different categories, including but not limited to reference apps, like the Physician’s Desk Reference or WebMD, medical calculators, and apps designed to access electronic health records (EHR) or personal health information (PHI). Medical reference apps constitute 50 percent of the apps currently present in various platform marketplaces1. However, significant growth is anticipated in mobile apps which seek to enhance or augment EHR interaction and provide additional operational functionality surrounding clinical work flow and decision support. With this expansion of mobile apps and the blurring of lines between some apps and medical devices, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued draft guidance in 2011 to manufacturers, distributors and other entities outlining the types of mobile apps the FDA intends to apply its regulatory authorities to in the future.

Keywords: 
mobile health, Mobile Applications, Health IT