Behind the Design: Introducing the VirtualCare Mobile App

The future of health tech truly is mobile, and here at Think Research, our Development team is always designing digital solutions with clinicians and patients in mind. According to a recent study, 70% of physicians use mobile devices to manage patient data, up from 8% in 2013. Patients themselves are also turning to mobile health apps, with mobile becoming a promising vehicle for improving patient access and engagement.

Our VirtualCare mobile app was recently launched on the App Store and Google Play, and to learn more about the development process, we sat down with Inder Singh, Senior Product Owner in our Information Technology team.

What are some of the unique things you need to keep in mind when it comes to designing a mobile app?

Privacy and security are a top concern for mobile app design, particularly when you factor in the risk of lost devices and unauthorized access. When you’re designing an app, you need to understand and be compliant with privacy regulations such as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the US, Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) in Canada and the Personal Health Information Protection Act, (PHIPA) in Ontario specifically. In addition to compliance, you also have to determine what data to store, how it will be encrypted, device locking, auto-lockouts, as well as other security-related issues.

In addition to privacy and security, usability is key. You need to understand how to translate essential web features into the mobile app in a way that accommodates the unique behaviours of mobile users, including scrolling, navigation patterns and push notifications. Determining which features make sense to implement in a mobile app really comes down to interpreting use cases for mobile. For VirtualCare, we understood that for providers and patients, on-the-go accessibility and convenience is a top priority. For those living in more remote areas, or even those in urban settings, eliminating the commute to a doctor’s office means that people don’t have to take a day off work, or pay a childcare provider. We knew that this level of accessibility was essential for today’s patient, and that it’s truly the wave of the future in healthcare.

What’s the process for testing mobile apps?

We began with a series of internal brainstorming sessions amongst our web team, QA, UX, and designers. Then, after we had established a set of use cases, we moved on to user testing, amongst both our Think Research staff and in the larger network that we work with (clients, clinicians, and other early adopters in the clinical community). There is a constant feedback loop from users back to designers, and those insights help us further refine and improve the app.

What’s a fundamental challenge that developers have in designing mobile apps?

The overwhelming amount of hardware and software variations, particularly when it comes to Android, is something you need to manage. You’ll need to be aware of your user base, what devices they’re using, and how that usage could change over the next couple of years.

Another challenge is to choose the right app development framework. One can either choose React-Native (which allows for a single codebase to be used for both iOS and Android) or regular native app development (in which case you have to make separate iOS and Android apps). There are pros and cons to each, but ultimately there is no “right” or “wrong” approach. One benefit of the single-code approach is that it allows a company to quickly enter the app market and ‘test the waters’ so to speak, before beginning the rigorous development process of native apps.

When it comes to mobile app design, what are some of the measures for success?

Measuring success definitely comes down to usage metrics (number of downloads and active users, both of which are critical measures at any time during an app’s lifecycle, but especially when you first launch). We also look at crash reports and the specific features used, as it’s very critical to monitor usage metrics especially when you first launch a new app. As of now, we have close to 1200 downloads, and over 1,000 registered users.

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be a developer, as mobile technology has evolved tremendously over the past decade (from software, hardware and connectivity) across all industries. Now, time and place is no longer a challenge, and it’s so rewarding to be able to see your app ‘in the wild’. I know my team and I look forward to how we can continue to evolve and improve upon the VirtualCare app as time goes on.