Top Challenges in Creating and Promoting Health Risk Assessment Apps

In an ideal world, people would drive down the cost of their healthcare by performing necessary screenings. After all, prevention is always cheaper than treatment. Risk assessment apps can help bring us closer to this ideal.

Apps that assess health risks are often used by people who are into fitness and are recommended by doctors for people who have chronic diseases that require constant monitoring. Risk assessment apps can also be used to evaluate environment-related health risks for people working in jobs like chemical production, mining, and construction. Let's take a close look at the solutions for healthcare available. 

1. Mhealth apps for people at risk of developing chronic conditions

Some chronic conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and certain types of malignant tumors require constant monitoring by both patients and doctors. Risk assessment is just the first step in assuring the necessary care. 

For example, people with a family history of cancer can learn through risk assessment apps how they can lower their chances of getting cancer by following personalized recommendations. Such web and mobile medical apps are often called risk calculators. 

Cardiac risk calculators

A cardiac risk calculator estimates an individual’s chances of experiencing a cardiac event within the next ten years. 

Such calculators take information about predictors of heart disease and compare it with population-level statistics to forecast a user’s chances of developing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD).

The information required to calculate the risk of ASCVD typically includes age, sex, race, cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and lifestyle characteristics. This type of calculator provides an invaluable framework to assess risks and see how they increase or decrease over time.

Cardiovascular Risk Calculator. Developed by the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization, the Cardiovascular Risk Calculator comes in iOS and web versions. Based on data about age, existing health conditions, and blood test results, the app calculates a user’s probability of developing a heart condition in the near future. Information used to calculate this probability comes from a dataset based on 100 random cases that were compiled and classified by a team of doctors and technicians. The app applies the formula for estimating cardiovascular risk in Latin America proposed by the World Health Organization. 

ASCVD Risk Estimator Plus. This calculator-like app bases its ratings of stroke and heart attack risk on the guidelines of the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. Both institutions’ guidelines consider known risk factors including high levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure, and a body mass index associated with obesity. 

Diabetes risk calculators

Type II diabetes is another serious chronic condition that requires constant monitoring, and patients with a high likelihood of developing diabetes can benefit from diabetes risk calculator apps. 

To estimate the risk of developing diabetes, users typically provide information including their age, sex, height, weight, race, birth place, genetic predisposition to diabetes, and blood glucose levels. Like other risk assessment apps, this data is typically elicited by an app questionnaire that also includes yes/no questions and multiple-choice questions. Then the app provides a risk score with an explanation and advice on how to improve one’s lifestyle to minimize the risk of diabetes. 

Diabetes risk calculator and Diabetes Risk Assessment Tool are examples of diabetes risk assessment apps. In addition to apps, there are also online tests that follow the same logic, such as the Type 2 Diabetes Risk Test provided by the American Diabetes Association and the Australian Type 2 Diabetes Risk Assessment Tool developed by the Baker IDI Heart Diabetes Institute.

Who are chronic condition risk calculator apps built for?

Some apps that calculate the risk of chronic conditions are developed primarily for clinicians. For instance, Calculate by QxMD is tailored to the medical community, providing medical practitioners with tools to facilitate diagnosis, clarify methods of treatment, and show prognoses.

Other similar apps are designed for patients themselves and provide useful advice about lifestyle changes and the optimal frequency of health checks. 

BRisk is an example of a health risk assessment tool that can be used by patients themselves. The BRisk app is aimed at assessing the risk of developing breast cancer. It helps to assess the age-specific risk of breast cancer for women with a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer.

There are also risk assessor apps that can be used by patients and clinicians. For example, 10 Year CV Risk Calculator helps to define a person’s chances of developing cardiovascular disease. The app can be used by both patients and their doctors to decide on lifestyle modifications or preventive medical treatment.

The Cardiovascular Risk Calculator can be used by physicians and nurses, and it’s especially useful for general practitioners and family doctors. This risk calculator was designed with a general audience in mind, so you don’t have to be a doctor to benefit from it – all risk estimates and recommendations are easy to understand.

The Diabetes risk calculator app

2. Apps for health-conscious individuals who want to monitor their lifestyle

In addition to apps that can assess the risk of developing chronic diseases, there are also apps designed for healthy people wanting to track and improve their lifestyle. In addition, some risk estimation apps are tailored to those experiencing symptoms of disease onset.

Wellness program apps    

WellRight is an app for followers of the WellRight wellness program that focuses on setting wellness-related goals and monitoring progress. With this app, risk assessment is just a bonus. People who are fond of fitness and wellness programs appreciate clear goals and illustrative diagrams that show their achievements. 

Currently, the WellRight app is available only to WellRight program members whose employers have decided to give access to the app. To start using WellRight, users must pass a health assessment, which can be customized by the employer. For example, an employer can add non-wellness questions about safety and security to questionnaires provided to employees during the health assessment. 

WellRight also offers its own vendor for health screenings if an employer doesn’t have one. Once health screenings are completed, biometric health data is available for members to review in the app.  

Female health tracking apps

These are apps designed specifically to track women’s health. They allow women to track their periods and predict ovulation and fertility windows. 

Clue, a period and cycle tracker app, is based on machine learning. The company behind Clue has been paying close attention to women with irregular periods. They’re trying to find out the reason for irregular cycles and estimate a woman’s risk of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). 

Clue’s latest feature — a questionnaire combined with a Dynamic Bayesian Network to identify the most effective questions — is aimed at pinpointing if users should blame PCOS for their cycle woes.

Symptom checkers    

There are also apps that help people without an elevated risk of developing chronic conditions analyze symptoms including fever, loss of appetite, and headaches. 

Ada is a great example of an interactive symptom checker for web and mobile (iOS and Android). It’s developed by doctors and scientists and is capable of recognizing thousands of symptoms and conditions. 

As Ada is designed not only for doctors but for non-medical users as well, it asks easy-to-understand questions during the assessment. Then it compares a user’s answers to other similar cases to figure out possible explanations for symptoms.   

The Ada app

Read also: How to Create and Grow Your Female Health Tracking App

3. Risk assessment software for checking the safety of work environments 

There are HSE (Health, Safety, and Environment) apps for the identification of potential health risks associated with environmental factors.

For instance, the E-FAST (Exposure and Fate Assessment Screening Tool) provides screening-level estimates of the concentrations of chemicals in the air, surface water, and landfills. This data is used to estimate how hazardous the environment is.

The Security Risk Assessment Survey mobile medical app is an inspection software tool that can be customized according to specific business requirements to manage risk assessments at construction sites or in office buildings. Managers can use this HSE risk management app to identify safety issues and improve the work environment so it meets standards required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

CheckedSafe’s Dynamic Risk Assessment app allows employees to record essential safety-related findings online and report them in real time. Then these findings can be evaluated by the line manager. All risk assessments can be tailored to meet an employer's requirements and cover sectors from office work to warehousing and highways. The app also suggests an appropriate response to the issue occurred.

There are also HSE mobile apps for those wanting to assess and minimize the risks of any task in any potentially dangerous sector. For instance, Take5 is a risk assessment and hazard reporting tool that asks detailed questions regarding tasks to evaluate possible risks. App users can report issues including hazards and injuries.

The Take5 app

Read also: Our Experience Developing Different Types of Health and Fitness Apps

What are the challenges of developing and promoting a health risk assessment app?

Creating a risk assessment app is challenging. Your app must be effective, take into account all essential risk factors, and still be easy to use and engaging. So what should you focus on to build such an app?

1. Creating a proprietary algorithm or acquiring a third-party algorithm that assesses health risks for a group of users

Assessing health risks requires access to statistical data and probabilities. Often, health risk assessment apps are designed based on existing medical guidelines from authoritative healthcare institutions.

For example, if you wanted to develop a heart disease risk assessment tool you could use the SCORE risk charts as a reference. SCORE, which stands for Systemic Coronary Risk Evaluation, is a set of charts that show risk levels based on gender, age, smoking habits, and cholesterol level.  

The American Society of Clinical Oncology provides an online genetics toolkit that offers oncology specialists tools and resources to help them effectively implement hereditary cancer risk assessments.

You can go further and create your own proprietary algorithms or even develop a chatbot like Babylon Health or Buoy Health did. These chatbots allow users to report symptoms. The chatbot then checks those symptoms against a database of medical issues and suggests an appropriate course of action. 

However, be aware that creating a chatbot is expensive and requires cooperation with a number of healthcare industry professionals and computer scientists. You can also choose to build your own symptom checker using APIs of digital platforms like Infermedica

Such services return a list of likely conditions and relevant observations based on a patient’s health data including symptoms, risk factors, lab test results, and demographics.  

2. Developing an engaging user experience

There’s a reason why a lot of risk assessment solutions are merely part of larger medical websites. Often, risk assessment tools designed for clinicians look like boring one-page questionnaires with a lot of complicated medical vocabulary. A mobile risk assessment app created in this style will almost certainly fail, since nobody’s going to come back to retake the same test. 

Questionnaires provided by your app should be user-friendly and designed to elicit essential data from a user. Keep in mind that users are wary of questions that seem irrelevant to the subject. 

That’s what Yalantis took into account while building a health app concept with a feature for booking doctor’s appointments. To provide doctors with the most vital patient information, we added a brief interactive questionnaire that wasn’t overloaded with text and avoided ambiguous questions.

It’s common courtesy for your app to notify users before they start the assessment about what kind of data you’ll ask them for and for what purpose. 

In addition, to make users come back to health risk assessment apps, these apps must offer an engaging follow-up. For instance, the Ada app implements an AI-powered system that contributes to personalization. The app’s smart symptom checker enables users to check any symptoms. The app learns over time and becomes familiar with a user’s particular conditions and history.As a result, the app is able to provide more accurate predictions over time.


[Health insurance app concept made by Yalantis]

Read also: HealthKit and Google Fit Can Teach You How to Develop Healthcare and Fitness Apps

3. Determining if a risk assessment app must be approved by the FDA or comply with HIPAA

Any app that’s meant to be used in clinical settings or that can be used by patients in place of an actual visit to the doctor is a potential legal liability. Apps that can be used for complex calculations in the medical field are seen by the FDA as “medical devices” and have to be submitted for FDA approval prior to their release. So before starting to develop this type of app, you should consult FDA guidelines for mobile medical applications.

Apps requiring users to provide their own data might not have to comply with HIPAA. For instance, a risk assessment app might ask users to enter their weight, height, and medical history. As the end user of such an app shares this information using their own equipment (i.e. bathroom scale), the app developer isn’t required to comply with HIPAA. If an app is used by a covered entity such as a doctor, hospital, or health insurance provider, it will most likely have to comply with HIPAA regulations.

Read also: HIPAA Requirements and Other Regulations Imposed on Medical Software

Concluding thoughts

Health risk assessment apps can be developed as standalone mobile applications or as web apps that are part of a larger health portal or website. Either way, such health and safety app development, offers a valuable connection between doctors and patients. This type of mhealth apps helps health-conscious users keep up with the latest medical recommendations and make informed lifestyle decisions that affect their health and wellbeing.

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