Viewing, storing and exchanging health data in an efficient way is one of the biggest challenges that app developers have to deal with when designing medical apps.
There used to be a time when working with medical records required a serious amount of paperwork and all records (as physical copies) were stored at the hospital. With new technologies appearing the situation changed, but even though electronic records are indeed more convenient, they are not perfect. Many challenges and opportunities remain for medical app developers.
What is an electronic medical records app?
Medical apps that store and exchange personal health information most often come in the form of a logbook that contains all medical records that a particular patient accumulates over the course of time, and can be viewed by both a patient and a doctor.
Some apps are designed to be used by only one person at a time, while others allow users to store several people’s health data in one place. For example, it is possible to save the records of all family members in a single app.
A medical records app should be able to keep different types of information in a convenient and secure way. The types of data that a user might want to store in a medical logbook app may include medical records, patient-added information (discussed below), and reminders. Let’s see what each of these types of data may look like.
- Test results and lab work which can be stored in the form of a chart or graph. An ideal logbook would offer some pre-made templates that could be used for common lab results such as heart rate, blood pressure, red or white blood cell count, cholesterol level, and urine test results. It would also be desirable to offer customizable features that would allow users to create templates for rare medical tests.
X-rays and scan images (e.g. CAT scans or MRI scans)
Prescription/ medication descriptions including photos of drug packaging, pills, and leaflets provided by pharmaceutical companies.
Emergency contacts can offer contact information for family members, and information about caregivers and local emergency departments. It’s important to add a list of medications that a patient is taking to the screen with emergency contacts.
Doctors’ contacts with hospital info, working hours, and a log with the patient’s previous appointments.
Health insurance information including a copy of the insurance card, policy number, and contact details.
Possible reminders may include appointments with doctors, vaccination calendars, and various medication reminders.
How do users upload all this information to a medical records app? There are two different approaches:
- A logbook that requires manual input of all data (typed, scanned, or in some other way uploaded by the user).
- A logbook that automatically receives medical data from sources such as a hospital or clinic’s database to the mobile app.
Type 1: Apps that require manual input
The first type of logbook app requires manual input of data. In this case, only users are responsible for updating their information, whether it be a CT scan image or an appointment reminder. It is also possible to develop such a logbook in a way that allows users to upload data from certain types of wearable devices.
It is important to note that we are talking about fitness trackers and smartwatches here, because medical sensors are in a totally different category. An app that exchanges data with advanced medical sensors must comply with HIPAA requirements, as discussed in one of our previous articles.
When data is uploaded by patients themselves, and doesn’t involve health care providers, then apps are less prone to privacy breaches.
Type 2: Apps that automatically receive data
The second type of medical records app relies on automatic updates from different types of medical devices and other apps on a user’s smartphone (for example Google Fit or HealthKit).
Automatic upload of medical records is far more convenient for users than manual input. But on the negative side, attaching an app to any piece of hardware is a security concern, meaning that app developers must make sure that all personal health data is protected at all stages.
Furthermore, developing a medical app that shares personal data is complicated and raises a number of financial and legal concerns for both clients and developers.
Legal requirements an app should comply with often depend on a particular country’s laws and regulations. In the United Kingdom, for example, medical information protection is regulated by the Data Protection Act of 1998 (DPA), and if an app is developed for the US market, then HIPPA requirements should be taken into consideration.
How can a logbook share different types of data?
A good medical records app should provide a number of options when it comes to sharing personal health information:
- Generating health data reports and sharing them via email or cloud.
- Uploading existing records from other sources onto a device.
- Sharing data easily among devices (through wifi networks or via Bluetooth)
The type of data that a user can share in an app will define which security measures medical app developers must implement in their product.
The only more or less secure way a medical logbook app can operate is if the user is fully responsible for uploading and updating all health-related information. In this case, an app does not need to interface with any outside servers, and data can be stored locally and securely on a user’s phone.
Read also: How to develop a health and fitness app?
Complying with industry standards of formatting
If you make up your mind to develop a medical records book, another thing you should take into account is data formatting standards. A logbook will be of little use for patients if the format of the medical reports and documents in the hospital is critically different from the one offered by the logbook.
Modern hospitals use electronic health record systems (EHR) which allow their physicians to access patient records. This means that a medical records app that is designed to provide a hospital with records should use the same format that the EHR uses.
The Continuity of Care Record (CCR) exists in the US as a format for personal medical records transmission. It’s an industry standard that allows for the creation of e-records, and reduces medical errors by making current information available to physicians.
Like any personal health record (PHR), the Continuity of Care Record operates with patient-related information, such as patient demographics, insurance and health care provider information, medication lists, allergies and recent medical procedures.
Under the United States guidelines for the meaningful use of electronic health records (EHR) technology, a certified EHR system must be able to receive documents formatted in either the Continuity of Care Record or the Continuity of Care Document standard and display them in a human-readable format.
For medical records app developers this means that any logbook designed in compliance with these standards will be able to exchange patient data with US hospitals, as well as with large health and fitness platforms that keep user records (e.g. HealthKit and Google Fit).
Mobile technology is rapidly developing and modern smartphones are increasingly able to sync up with electronic health record systems, allowing physicians to access patient records from remote locations.
Yet there are a lot of challenges when it comes to using mobile platforms for storing and sharing electronic health records. Data has to be accurate, private and secure, and well-integrated with existing healthcare systems. Once devices and apps become truly connected, they will be able to store and share immense volumes of data with valuable insights with doctors and other healthcare professionals.