So you’re developing an app…

Medipex are increasingly being approached with ideas for health and medical software applications (apps) from our member Trusts and partners, commonly known as mHealth apps. The ideas cover a wide range of tools and information resources to assist medical staff to perform their duties more efficiently and/or to help patients self-manage their conditions or to promote a more healthy lifestyle.  

The large global mHealth market revenue figures widely quoted in the literature make the idea of creating a mHealth app sound exciting and potentially very lucrative, but what is the reality? What do you need to consider when deciding if it is appropriate to develop an app to solve a problem and what criteria do Medipex consider when assessing these ideas for commercial value and potential impact on patient outcomes and health economies? Follow our 5 step guide below to help you decide whether app development is right for you.

Step 1: Is it needed?

Will the development of an app satisfy an unmet need? Could it save time/money or perhaps improve patient experience? If ‘yes’, then it may be worth considering app development, but it is also worth checking whether a solution to the problem already exists; it may be more time and cost-effective to collaborate with the developer of an existing software application to adapt it to your needs. The NHS Choices Health Apps Library (http://apps.nhs.uk/) details apps that have been reviewed by the NHS and deemed clinically safe and is therefore a good place to start looking.   

Step 2: What is the value proposition?

The cost of app development varies, but can be expected to cost a few thousand pounds (depending on complexity and number of platforms), typically £2K - £30K for development plus ongoing maintenance and license fees.  It is essential therefore that you consider how this will be funded and how you will justify these development costs by demonstrating the value of the app to your organisation or users.  For example, funding may be available from your employer organisation if you can demonstrate that use of the app would improve workplace efficiency or provide a service that you are currently unable to offer. External sources of funding may also be accessible such as charities or commercial organisations that have an interest in the field you are targeting.  

Step 3: Who owns it?

Development of an app often requires collaboration with people outside of your organisation such as software coders, funders and users.  It is important that you address IP ownership with each of these collaborators, ideally before the work commences.  Contact Medipex for advice on these discussions and negotiations and we can help put any necessary contracts in place to protect your rights.

It is often the case that ideas that you generate during the course of your work are owned by your employer, and in the case of Trust employees this is almost always the case.  So before you put any of your own money into developing any innovation, talk to your IP lead or Medipex representative.

Step 4: Is it a medical device?

Getting MHRA approval (a CE mark) for “standalone software” (which includes apps) can add considerable cost to the development, therefore this needs to be taken into consideration from the start. Regulation under the Medical Device Directive is particularly likely if the app is developed to diagnose, prevent, monitor or treat/alleviate a condition. According to the latest guidance, functions such as analysis, detection, calculation, control, monitoring, diagnosis, measuring, conversion, interpretation and amplification all increase the likelihood of an app being classed as a medical device (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/medical-devices-software-applications-apps).

Step 5: Is it a commercial proposition?

Medipex is particularly interested in software and applications that have the potential for commercial return, i.e. those that have the potential to bring in more money than it costs to develop and maintain them. It is important to think about (a) who will use it and (b) who will pay for it (these are not necessarily the same people) when assessing commercial potential, revenue models, platform(s) and marketing strategies.

Allowing users to download an app for free can help increase the number of users, but to recoup the development costs and generate income you could consider in-app advertising, in-app purchases for additional content (so called ‘freemium apps’) or make a charge for the initial download.  Some developers also ask for voluntary donations. In some cases, a more appropriate model may be to charge a subscription fee, e.g. for the provision of a service, and it may even be possible to license the software to other organisations who can adapt it for their own use.  Contact Medipex with your ideas for some help with determining the best model and marketing strategy for you.

In summary, software applications can be incredibly useful tools in enhancing the patient experience or improving the efficiency of healthcare provision.  However, some serious consideration needs to be given to whether the cost of development can be justified and whether the development of an app is a likely commercial proposition.  According to a recent industry report (“mHealth App Developer Economics” by Research2guidance), more than two thirds of mHealth apps make little (less than $10K) or no revenue but the top 5% have each generated over $1million. 

Which will yours be…?

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